- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2008

JERUSALEM — Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, on a swing through the Middle East, made a foray into Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking yesterday, expressing his support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The comment seemed to contradict the policy of the Bush administration and previous presidents, who have tried to stay neutral on one of the most serious points of friction between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr. McCain’s visit coincided with an address to the Israeli parliament by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who received a standing ovation as she paid tribute to the victims of the Holocaust.

In an emotional speech, Mrs. Merkel said Germans are still “filled with shame” about the Nazi genocide of 6 million Jews. Germany has proved a staunch ally of Israel, particularly since Mrs. Merkel became chancellor in 2005.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the main topics on the table in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that restarted late last year. Israel wants the entire city to remain united under its sovereignty in a peace deal, while the Palestinians demand areas of Jerusalem captured by Israel in the 1967 war.

“I support Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Mr. McCain said in Jordan before arriving late yesterday in Israel, Agence France-Presse reported.

Mr. McCain is making a swing this week through the Middle East and Europe, starting in Iraq and ending in London. In Israel, he is part of a congressional delegation that includes Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.

During talks at the Jerusalem residence of Israeli President Shimon Peres, Mr. McCain said his trip through the region has intensified concern about the role of Iran in supporting and financing extremist groups.

“Iran finances, trains and aids extremist groups,” Mr. McCain said at a press event with Mr. Peres.

Though Mr. McCain’s visit to the region is not officially a campaign stop, images of the senator from Arizona embracing Israeli officials promise to appeal to Jewish voters in the United States.

Today, Mr. McCain has meetings scheduled with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who will take the senator by helicopter to the border town of Sderot, which has been hit frequently by Palestinian rockets from the Gaza Strip.

Mr. McCain also will pay a visit to the Western Wall today.

A Palestinian negotiator said Monday that he was not aware of any plans for a meeting with the Republican presidential candidate.

Mr. McCain probably has the lowest name recognition in Israel of all the U.S. presidential candidates because the spotlight has been trained on the Democratic battle between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.

Still, a poll taken two weeks ago by Israel’s Channel 10 News on Israelis’ attitudes toward the presidential candidates found Mr. McCain running in between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama.

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