White House hopefuls pursue the Jewish vote


in Washington

If the Jerusalem question has suddenly seized the imagination of leading US politicians, it has less to do with a concern for peace between Israelis and Palestinians than with next year's presidential election.

The United States was the sole member of the United Nations Security Council to vote against a resolution on Wednesday criticising Israel's decision to confiscate land in east Jerusalem.

Last week Senator Bob Dole, Mr Clinton's likely Republican opponent next year, joined the fray when he proposed legislation to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The gallery that Mr Clinton and Mr Dole are playing to is America's Jewish constituency, unparalleled providers of political influence and campaign funds.

Mr Dole announced his proposal on 8 May at the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the single most powerful lobby in Washington. The senator, tapping into emotions surrounding Israel's historic claim on Jerusalem as its capital, received a standing ovation.

While his proposal endeared him to the group within the Jewish community with the greatest political and financial clout, sectors of America's Jewish population with a less metaphysical perception of the Middle Eastern problem viewed the move as cynical and ham-fisted.

The Forward, a Jewish newspaper based in New York, said Mr Dole's efforts "to emerge as the greater champion of Israel" - an American David to Mr Clinton's Goliath - "would be laughable were it not so blatant a play for positioning in the coming primaries". Gary Rubin, the president of a Jewish body supporting the Middle Eastern peace process called Americans for Peace Now, said that Mr Dole's initiative was grossly ill-timed in that it could only disrupt the delicate balance of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

"It's another expression of the constant competition between presidential candidates to win Jewish support."

Accordingly, as Washington insiders observed yesterday, Mr Clinton's eagerness not to be outdone in visible expressions of support for Israel left him with little choice but to order his ambassador at the United Nations to veto the resolution condemning the planned Jerusalem land confiscations. Not least as Mr Clinton rejects Mr Dole's call, viscerally appealing as it is to many American Jews, for the prompt transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem.