Suddenly, foreign policy is the hottest election topic

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The Independent Online

Foreign policy has abruptly taken centre-stage in the US presidential race, with both candidates competing to deploy forceful rhetoric in response to the worsening crisis in the Middle East and to yesterday's apparent terrorist attack on an American warship in Yemen.

Foreign policy has abruptly taken centre-stage in the US presidential race, with both candidates competing to deploy forceful rhetoric in response to the worsening crisis in the Middle East and to yesterday's apparent terrorist attack on an American warship in Yemen.

Neither campaign is missing the chance to seek support among Jewish voters. Unsurprisingly, there is little concern for the Clinton administration's efforts to present America as an honest broker in the crisis. Instead, each man is straining to voice support for Israel and shift blame to Yasser Arafat.

Al Gore called on "Chairman Arafat to issue instructions to those who have been perpetrating violence to cease and desist". Within moments, George W Bush was also before the cameras, saying Mr Arafat, "must stand up and call on his people to put down their rocks and arms".

The imperative for both campaigns to side with Israel in this crisis and divert the burden of blame to the Palestinians was on vivid display in their latest debate.

Mr Gore said: "Israel should, should feel absolutely secure about one thing. Our bonds with Israel are larger than agreements or disagreements on some details of diplomatic initiatives.

"They are historic, they are strong and they are enduring." The Vice-President stressed Washington's honest broker role, but his words had betrayed a political imbalance towards Israel.

Mr Bush said: "I call on Chairman Arafat to have his people pull back to make the peace." He made no similar appeal of the Israelis. A few breaths later, he added: "I want everybody to know, should I be the President, Israel's going to be our friend. I'm going to stand by Israel."

None of this is helpful to President Bill Clinton, for whom Middle East peace was meant to become his lasting legacy. He knows the candidates are doing all they can to secure their share of the Jewish vote, especially important in big states such as New York, Florida, a battleground state, and California.

The Jewish community in America is in deep distress. More than ever, its common concern now is the absolute defence of Israel and its sovereignty. In this atmosphere of inflamed passions, the candidates can do nothing but voice support for Israel in the strongest terms.

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