In response to a question, the first lady said, “I think it will be in the long-term interests of the Middle East for Palestine to be a state.”
The comment, including at least seven other references to statehood for the Palestinians and the word “Palestine” set off a fury in Israel and among many American Jewish groups. The first lady’s staff immediately moved to downplay the statement.
Her words stand in direct contradiction to U.S. policy, which for decades opposed the creation of a Palestinian state. After Israel and the Palestinians signed the Oslo accords earlier this decade did the United States say that statehood is a matter for negotiations between the parties.
The day after the first lady’s comments, White House spokesman Mike McCurry continued to distance the Clinton administration from the statement. “That view expressed personally by the first lady is not the view of the president,” said McCurry.
“This was not part of any kind of calculated strategy, and I think it speaks for itself when an immediate clarification is issued by her staff that this is something that she did not say in the context of any formal administration policy-making role,” he said. When pressed on the issue, McCurry said to laughter from the White House press corps, “I expect that she will always continue to express her views, but I doubt that she’ll be venturing into the Middle East peace process anytime soon.”