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Friday, July 9, 1999 Published at 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK

World: Middle East

Hillary in Jerusalem controversy

To win in New York, Mrs Clinton needs the Jewish vote

The United States Government has sought to distance itself from comments made by First Lady Hillary Clinton about the status of Jerusalem.

Mrs Clinton, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat for New York, told a Jewish leader that she considered Jerusalem to be the "eternal and indivisible capital of Israel".

[ image:  ]
She also said she believed the US embassy in Israel should be moved to Jerusalem from its present location in Tel Aviv.

Mrs Clinton was replying to a letter from Mandell Ganchrow, president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

Jerusalem is not recognised internationally as the capital of the Jewish state, as the east side of the city was captured and annexed by Israel in contravention of international law.

The White House has resisted pressure to relocate the embassy from pro-Israeli groups, which want Washington to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The State Department said the views expressed by Mrs Clinton were personal and did not alter the government's position that Israel and the Palestinians should determine the future of Jerusalem.

Mixed messages

It is not the first time Mrs Clinton has courted controversy in the complex and fraught questions of Middle East politics.

[ image: Clinton has avoided Palestinian anger on embassy issue]
Clinton has avoided Palestinian anger on embassy issue
She surprised many observers in 1998 when she expressed support for the Palestinians' right to statehood - another departure from official US policy.

The previous Israeli government ruled out Palestinian statehood, although observers say is it more likely under Prime Minister Barak.

Mrs Clinton's latest comments have been welcomed by members of New York's pro-Israel lobby, including Congressman Benjamin Gilman, a leader of congressional drive to have the US embassy moved.

However, the Jewish leader who elicited her statement of support for Israel remains unconvinced.

"We would want to meet with her and try to gauge her emotional attachment to these issues," Mr Ganchrow said.

Political ambition

More Jews live in New York than any other city in the world, and most of them traditionally vote Democrat.

[ image: US Embassy has stayed in Tel Aviv despite pressure]
US Embassy has stayed in Tel Aviv despite pressure
Palestinian leaders, who want the capital of a future state to be in Jerusalem, have criticised what they see as Mrs Clinton's political opportunism.

"Unfortunately, American politicians, when they run for office, especially in a state like New York, abandon their objectivity and principles," the Palestinian planning minister, Nabil Shaath, said.

In 1992, Mr Clinton campaigned for the presidency on a promise to move the embassy from Tel Aviv, but he has disappointed the Israeli lobby by not fulfilling that pledge.

He has since blocked a 1995 law that authorised relocation, citing the danger of undermining final status negotiations on the sovereignty of Jerusalem, as well as threats to US security.

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