Albright announced that she would make her first official visit to the Middle East later this month if the two sides made progress on security issues, following last week's terrorist bombings that killed 13 Israelis and two suicide bombers in a Jerusalem marketplace.
Responding to critics who contend the Clinton administration is doing too little as the peace process falls apart, Albright sought the Press Club forum to make her first detailed remarks since the bombing. She affirmed the commitment to help but said the administration ``will not impose solutions.''
``These are their decisions, not ours,'' Albright said in a speech reviewed Tuesday by President Clinton. ``The longer decisions are postponed, the more conflict and suffering will ensue.''
Albright said the policy of small steps that produced historic cooperation under the previous Labor Party government in Israel had outlived its usefulness. She said modest confidence-building measures should be twinned with accelerated talks on such difficult issues as the future of Jerusalem.
Choosing her words with great care, Albright left no doubt about growing U.S. frustration with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But she attached none of her disappointments to them by name.
Citing allegations that Arafat and the Palestinian Authority had flashed a green light to anti-Israeli violence as a lever in peace negotiations, Albright said such an approach ``destroys confidence, fuels extremism, and undermines prospects for peace.''
``On this issue, there can be no winks, no double standards, no double meanings, and - with respect to the imprisonment of terrorists - no revolving doors,'' Albright said. ``The Palestinian commitment to fight terror must be constant and absolute.''
Turning to the Israeli side of the ledger, Albright criticized aggressive moves taken without consulting Arafat. Best known is the bitterly contested East Jerusalem housing project known to Israelis as Har Homa and Netanyahu's opening last year of a new entrance to a tourist tunnel near a Muslim shrine.
``Let me be clear. There is no moral equivalency between suicide bombers and bulldozers, between killing innocent people and building houses,'' Albright said. ``But the principle of refraining from unhelpful unilateral acts is central to maintaining mutual confidence.''
Anticipating Israeli protestations, she added that both sides ``must do more than ask whether an action is technically legal. They must ask whether it is wise.''
Clinton spoke at length about Israeli-Palestinian problems at a news conference yesterday, emphasizing the need for Palestinians to fight terrorism and reinforce Israeli security. But he said the Netanyahu government ``clearly has a responsibility to carry its end of the load, too. This has got to be a two-way street.''
Albright said Israel and the international community had a stake in Palestinian economic development, a reference to the Netanyahu government's widely opposed decision to withhold essential tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority since last week's suicide bombings.
Praising Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Hussein, Albright called on Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel. She said a boycott of the Middle East Economic Summit in November would be a setback.
Dennis Ross, Clinton's Middle East envoy, will travel to Jerusalem this weekend to work on security issues. He intends to lay the groundwork for Albright's first visit to the country since the 1995 funeral of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, when she was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Central to Albright's remarks is the implication that Netanyahu and Arafat have disappointed a majority of their people who would prefer compromise to conflict. She called for the political center to overcome extremists, a reference to Islamic terrorists and Israel's right wing.
``The United States cannot choose this future for Israel or for the Palestinians. That is their choice and their challenge,'' Albright concluded. ``We do not underestimate the difficulties.''