JERUSALEM, Oct. 25--President Clinton said Wednesday he believes Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has the authority to end the bloodshed that has dashed hopes for peace in the Middle East.
In West Bank and Gaza Strip, the level of violence was down for a third day Wednesday. No major demonstrations or confrontations were reported, although a few minor clashes occurred on a stormy day. The New York Times said both sides seemed to be taking a deep breath and considering their options following calls from Clinton to Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Barak aide Gilead Sher said that tensions seemed to be easing and suggested that, if behind-the-scenes efforts being brokered by the Americans in the wake of the Sharm el Sheik talks were successful, Israel might move its troops back from the outskirts of the Palestinian areas where they have been the target of protests, the Times reported.
In Washington, Clinton said both the Palestinians and Israelis must honor the commitments they made to the United States at a recent emergency summit in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, before productive peace negotiations can resume between Arafat and Barak.
Clinton has raised the possibility of meeting separately with Arafat and Barak at the White House if the violence subsides. The White House said the two leaders are still considering the offer.
``I do think Chairman Arafat can dramatically reduce the level of violence,'' Clinton said.
But the president acknowledged that the route back to the negotiating table will be rocky.
``You just can't turn mass emotions on and off--like, you know you can a water tap. It's just not that simple,'' Clinton said. ``I think what we did at Sharm (el-Sheik) was to put at least a speed bump on the road to this dramatic deterioration of the situation.''
He also said he believed that neither Arafat nor Israeli leaders have complete control over violent factions.
``I think there are some people within the Palestinian territories and probably some people within Israel that are not within total control of Chairman Arafat or even the Israeli government,'' Clinton said.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution Wednesday condemning Palestinians for the violence with Israel despite warnings that it would ``inflame passions'' and undermine the U.S. role as a broker for peace in the region.
On a vote of 365-30, the House called on Palestinian leadership to stop the violence, refrain from making public statements that incite the public and settle its grievances through negotiations.
The non-binding resolution expresses the House's ``solidarity with the State and people of Israel at this time of crisis'' and condemns the Palestinian leadership for ``encouraging the violence and doing so little for so long to stop it.''
The vote followed an hour-long debate Tuesday, during which Rep. James P Moran, D-Va., warned against ``taking sides and therefore further inflaming the rage and despair'' in the region. He noted that the National Security Council and State Department had the House to reject the resolution.
But that was clearly a minority viewpoint.
``We need to pass this resolution to assure that the Congress of the United States sends a clear message in support of peace and the State of Israel,'' said Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, R-N.Y.
The vote comes just days after the Palestinians won U.N. admonition of Israel in a General Assembly resolution condemning the ``excessive use of force'' by Israelis against Palestinians civilians in the more than three weeks of fighting.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif, said the House had to pass its resolution partly in response to that Friday vote in favor of Palestinians at the United Nations.
``The refusal of (Palestinian leader Yasser) Arafat to do anything except turn to international organizations that have always been biased against Israel...to try to point fingers at Israel...makes it incumbent on us, the only superpower in the world...to stand with Israel.''
During a 30-minute phone call to Arafat on Tuesday, Clinton raised the possibility of inviting him and Barak to meet with him individually in Washington in one more attempt to break the latest cycle of bloodshed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He called Barak Tuesday night.
The increased threat of terrorist incidents in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza prompted the State Department to caution Americans against traveling to those areas.
Those who must go to those areas ``should exercise caution and avoid shopping areas, malls, public buses and bus stops as well as crowded areas and demonstrations,'' the department said in a statement Tuesday.
In four weeks of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, nearly 130 people, mostly Palestinians, have died. Fighting tapered off Tuesday but still three Palestinians were killed. There were no reports of deaths Wednesday.
Barak is working to save his government by negotiating with hard-line opposition leader Ariel Sharon to form a coalition government. The Jerusalem Post newspaper said an agreement between the two could come as soon as Thursday, although obstacles remained over how power would be shared.
Palestinians have said Sharon's inclusion would crush any hopes left for peace. They blame Sharon's Sept. 28 visit to a site in Jerusalem holy to Jews and Muslims for sparking this month's violence. Israel says the Palestinians used the Sharon visit as an excuse to launch loing-planned violence designed to pressure Israel into making fresh compromises at the negotiating table.
A fresh round of diplomacy would mark Clinton's second involvement in the Mideast since the nine-day Camp David talks between Barak and Arafat ended in failure in July.