The US has played down reports that it is planning to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The reports surfaced in the Israeli and Arab press in mid-November as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin began a tour of the US, and US Secretary of State Warren Christopher was arranging another round of shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East.

US State Department officials say the US has no specific plans to move its embassy to Jerusalem, although the Israeli government has given Washington permission to develop diplomatic facilities at a site in West Jerusalem. Approval was given in October this year. The US government has been looking at sites in both Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem to develop jointly since 1988 that would improve its diplomatic presence.

‘The US has no immediate plans to build on the Allenby site (in West Jerusalem),’ a US state department official said. The official added that the decision to choose a site in West Jerusalem was not intended to predetermine in any way the outcome of talks on the final status of the city between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The Israeli premier began a tour of the US in mid-November, which included talks in Washington on 21 November. These talks are likely to be followed by the US secretary of state’s visit to the Israel and other Middle East states in early December. This round of peace diplomacy by Christopher is expected to concentrate on the Syria-Israel track of the peace talks.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians made some progress on 15 November with the transfer of further civilian powers on the West Bank to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). However, the talks were overshadowed by a suicide bomb attack on 11 November carried out by a member of the Islamist group Islamic Jihad, which killed three Israeli soldiers at a joint Palestinian- Israeli checkpoint in Gaza.

PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat responded by ordering a roundup of nearly 200 activists of the group, and signalled that this marked the beginning of a crackdown on Islamic Jihad.

Despite the arrests, Rabin called on the PLO to toughen its campaign against Islamist violence during a trip to the Gaza Strip on 15 November, saying the PNA was still not doing enough to counter Islamist acts of violence. The Israeli government indicated it was taking its own tougher line when a cabinet committee was reported to have relaxed restraints on interrogation methods used by the Israeli security force in Gaza and the West Bank, Shin Bet.

Arafat also faced criticism from PLO members after he called the first session of the PLO executive committee to meet in Gaza on 15 November. Only half the members attended. PLO leaders in Tunis, including the organisation’s head of foreign affairs Farouq Qaddoumi, said the meeting in Gaza was illegal because it was still under occupation. Arafat subsequently declared the gathering an informal meeting.