While US Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Tuesday, March 18, described the occupied holy city of Al-Quds as Israel's capital, Democratic rival Barak Obama defended it against "radical Islam."
"I support Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," McCain said in Jordan a few hours before arriving in Israel.
Israel captured Al-Quds in the six-day 1967 war before annexing the holy city and declaring it part of its eternal undivided capital, a claim not recognized by the UN or the world community.
Al-Quds is home to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which includes Islam's third holiest shrine, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and represents the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The fate of the city is one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, and renewed Israeli settlement activity is hampering talks revived only in November.
Palestinians insist the city will be the capital of their future independent state.
McCain's statements contradict the two-state solution laid out by incumbent US President George W. Bush.
"They do not represent the position of the US administration which considers all the Palestinian areas occupied by Israel in 1967, including east Jerusalem, as occupied territories," senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.
"They also contradict the two-state vision of president Bush."
The United States and other foreign governments maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv.
A legislation passed by Congress in 1995 says Al-Quds "should be recognized as the capital of the state of Israel" but successive presidents have deferred the actual move by six-month periods.
In June, the House of Representatives passed a resolution urging Bush to move the embassy to Al-Quds and congratulating Israel "on the 40th anniversary of the reunification of that historic city."
McCain accused the Palestinian resistance group Hamas, the ruling party in the Gaza Strip, of being an obstacle to peace.
"I know that the people of Israel and the Palestinian people want to see a peaceful settlement as both sides suffered enormously," he said.
"I think it will be enormously helpful if…Gaza is not governed by an entity that is committed to the extinction of the state of Israel."
A few hours after his remarks, McCain was given a hero welcome in Al-Quds by Israeli President Shimon Peres.
He began his two-day stay with a 90-minute visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum.
Wearing a skullcap, McCain's eyes welled with tears as he viewed photographs, laid a wreath and lit a memorial flame.
Signing the Yad Vashem visitors' book he wrote: "I am deeply moved. Never again."
McCain was to tour Israel by helicopter with Defense Minister Ehud Barak to acquaint himself with its security problems, the minister's office said.
The Arizona senator was also to hold talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Thousands of miles apart, a similar pro-Israel message was being given by White House hopeful Obama.
He described his longtime Chicago preacher the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's views on Israel as "distorted."
Obama criticized the remarks for depicting the conflicts in the Middle East "as rooted primarily in the actions of 'homicidal' allies like racist Israel instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam."
Wright, who officiated at Obama's wedding and baptized his two daughters, is an outspoken critic of US and Israeli "terrorism."
Obama believes Israel must remain a Jewish state and Palestinian refugees must forget about ever returning to their homes.
He has even dismissed allegations about his Muslim roots as a smear campaign targeting Jews themselves.
White House rivals frequently voice support for Israel and Jews, with a eye on Jewish voters estimated to be 2 to 3 percent of the American electorate.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Mart 2008, 12:47