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8 Democratic Presidential Hopefuls in Three-hour Debate Barely Mention Israel or the Middle East

Israel and the Middle East were barely mentioned during the three-hour debate between the eight candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination at Dartmouth College yesterday which was nationally televised over the Public Broadcasting System.

The issue was brought up at the end of the first 90-minute segement which was largely devoted to nuclear weapons and the defense budget. The second 90 minutes in which Phil Donahue moderated questions from the audience at the New Hampshire school was mainly devoted to domestic issues.

Ted Koppel, who asked questions during the first 90 minutes, brought up the Mideast with a brief question about Lebanon and the new strategic relationship between the U.S. and Israel. The Rev. Jesse Jackson repeated his contention that the U.S. cannot seem to be an ally of Israel alone in the Middle East.

“We have an interest as a superpower in all” of the 22 nations of the Middle East, Jackson said. “We have an obligation to support Israel’s right to exist with security within internationally recognized borders.” But he added, “Saudi Arabia is our ally too and so is Kuwait and so is Egypt. And strategic alliances with Israel cannot protect America or Israel.”

But Sen. Alan Cranston of California said, “I don’t think you can have an even-handed policy with nations that resort to violence and terrorism, with nations that are in a holy war with Israel and refuse to accept the right of Israel to exist in the Middle East.” He added “If the Arab nations drop the holy war concept against them (Israel), then I think we can work things out.”

Former Vice President Walter Mondale said he has long advocated a “strong and new close strategic cooperation between the United States and Israel.”

On Lebanon, Mondale and Sens. Gary Hart of Colorado and Ernest Hollings of South Carolin a urged the withdrawal of the marines from Lebanon. But. Sen. John Glenn of Ohio said the marines should not be withdrawn until they could be replaced by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) which is now in south Lebanon. He said that to give a time for the pullout would mean that the Syrians would just “sit and wait us out.”

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