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First lady supports Jerusalem as capital of Israel

July 9, 1999
Web posted at: 4:48 p.m. EDT (2048 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 9) -- First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton says she considers Jerusalem to be the "eternal and indivisible capital of Israel" and will be an active advocate -- if elected to New York's Senate seat -- to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

In a letter that became public Thursday, Mrs. Clinton wrote: "If I am chosen by New Yorkers to be their senator, or in whatever position I find myself in the years to come, you can be sure that I will be an active, committed advocate for a strong and secure Israel, able to live in peace with its neighbors, with the United States Embassy located in its capital, Jerusalem."

"Of course, the timing of such a move must be sensitive to Israel's interest in achieving a secure peace with its neighbors. I will never countenance any action that would endanger Israel's security," wrote Mrs. Clinton in her July 2 letter to Dr. Mandell Ganchrow of the Orthodox Union in New York.

Mrs. Clinton's letter is a departure from her husband's most recent action regarding Jerusalem and the U.S. embassy.

Congress -- under the Jerusalem Embassy act of 1995 -- stated that the U.S. embassy must be moved from its present location in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its capital. It gave President Bill Clinton until May 1999 to move the embassy, stipulating that 50 percent of the State Department's building fund would be frozen if the embassy were not moved by then.

In June, President Bill Clinton used his waiver authority to freeze building funds and delay the move of the embassy to Jerusalem for what he said were national security reasons.

The State Department was unruffled by the first lady's divergence from U.S. policy.

"The first lady was expressing her personal views and it does not complicate, in any way, our efforts to promote and accelerate the Middle East peace process. Our position -- the administration's position -- on the issue of Jerusalem has not changed," State Department spokesman James Foley said.

While the first lady has not officially declared her candidacy for the New York Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-New York), she launched her exploratory committee last week and has been in the state for the past three days on a "listening tour."

Her letter makes two things clear. One, that she is actively courting the key Jewish constituency in New York state; and two, that she is willing to take somewhat different stands than her husband.

Last year, Mrs. Clinton raised eyebrows when she called for the establishment of a Palestinian state. "I think that it is very important for the Palestinian people, but I also think it's very important for the broader goal of peace in the Middle East," she said at the time.

In the superheated ethnic politics of New York City, that statement did not go over well. While her latest remark regarding Israel has prompted some critics to accuse Mrs. Clinton of pandering to Jewish voters, others suggest she's recognizing political realities on her future home turf.

Senior Palestinian Negotiator Sa'eb Erakat said, "It's very unfortunate. This is the same lady who called for the establishment of a Palestinian state a year ago. I guess this is the nature of U.S. politics."

Republican New York state assemblyman John Faso told CNN's "Inside Politics" Thursday: "We don't really believe much of what she's saying and, quite frankly, it just smacks of politics and it shows the difficult role that she's putting herself in and the country in by becoming a political candidate from the platform of the White House. It really is inappropriate."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler disagreed: "I don't think she's pandering. She's saying what she believes. I don't think she's pandering any more than the mayor could be said to have been pandering when he said the same thing."

Jews accounted for one out of every eight New York voters in 1996 and in 1998. Eighty percent of them voted for Bill Clinton for president, and nearly 80 percent voted for Democrat Chuck Schumer for senator.

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- a Republican who has also formed an exploratory committee and is considered to be Mrs. Clinton toughest rival for the Senate seat -- has voiced his support of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Jerusalem is an issue the United States government believes should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians, both of which claim rights to the city.

CNN's Bruce Morton and Sharona Schwartz contributed to this report.


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