JERUSALEM -- In an unusual attack on U.S. policy, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel accused the Clinton administration yesterday of yielding to Palestinian pressure with its latest proposals in the Middle East peace talks.
Mr. Rabin was reacting unhappily to a U.S. draft paper that the administration hopes can become the basis for agreement on the principles for future Palestinian self-rule in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The U.S. proposals have also won no friends among Palestinian negotiators, who warned this weekend that the talks, after making virtually no headway over the last 20 months, were in danger of total collapse.
The Palestinians view the U.S. paper as essentially embracing Israeli ideas, specifically by leaving questions of territorial sovereignty out of any discussion of interim self-rule arrangements and by making no mention of Jerusalem, whose eastern half is sought by the Palestinians as the capital of their hoped-for future state.
Such issues, the Americans said, should be left for later, when the parties move beyond an interim settlement to discuss a permanent solution for the disputed territories.
In Washington, Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher warned yesterday that the United States might halt its active role in the Middle East peace talks, saying that all sides "have to want peace."
Despite the failure of the latest round of talks, which ended in Washington last week, to move the Israelis and Palestinians closer to a settlement, Mr. Christopher said on the NBC program "Meet the Press" that he still believed that the Arabs and the Israelis wanted American participation.
But, he added, "if the parties don't want our assistance, if they really don't want us to play this role, of course we will not impose ourselves." The Clinton administration came into office pledging to be a "full partner" in the talks.
The Israelis have not publicly spelled out what they find objectionable, but apparently they are displeased with a U.S. suggestion that Jerusalem might be negotiable at all.
Since it annexed the eastern part of the city, which was in Jordanian hands from 1948 until the 1967 war, Israel has declared Jerusalem to be its permanent, unified capital and not a subject for discussion.
In sharp language, Mr. Rabin said yesterday that he was "disappointed" with the new U.S. paper, particularly because it reworked another document prepared two months ago.
"The Palestinians attacked the first paper," the prime minister said as he returned from a trip to Europe. "The fact that the Americans responded and changed even here and there -- as a matter of principle we could not, and we will not, tolerate such a development."
His remarks reflected widespread frustration within his government over the lack of progress in the talks.
Leftist Cabinet ministers partially blamed Israel itself, saying yesterday that Mr. Rabin must negotiate directly with the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is guiding Palestinian strategy from behind the thinnest of veils.
But the prime minister stuck to his refusal to deal face to face with the organization, and his Cabinet allies warned that the leftist ministers might encourage Palestinian foot-dragging.