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Hillary Clinton outlines Mideast views in separate speeches to Jewish groups

WASHINGTON, July 28 (JTA) — As Hillary Rodham Clinton proceeds with her all-but-certain bid for the Senate, the first lady is continuing to distance herself from controversial statements supporting Palestinian statehood. In back-to-back speeches to Jewish groups on Tuesday, Clinton, who had drawn fire from any in the Jewish community, sought to stake out pro-Israel positions. She reiterated her support for Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal and indivisible capital” and announced her opposition to “any unilateral action that circumvents the negotiating table.” In her most extensive remarks on the Middle East since she began campaigning for a Senate seat from New York, Clinton spoke here to the annual convention of Hadassah and the National Jewish Democratic Council. Together she spent about five hours at the two events, addressing nearly 3,000 Jewish activists. To a muted chant of “Run, Hillary, Run,” the first lady took the podium at NJDC’s annual Hubert H. Humphrey awards event. The United States must continue to support Israel as the Jewish state takes risks for peace, Clinton said. Pledging continued support for the peace process, Clinton said, “We can never give up” until Israel is “safe, secure and at peace.” Expanding on her views in a 40-minute speech warmly received by some 2,100 Hadassah activists crammed into a hotel ballroom, Clinton listened as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, in a videotaped message, offered his “sincere congratulations to the first lady on the Henrietta Szold award,” which she received from the women’s Zionist movement in recognition of her humanitarian work for children. Hadassah had drawn protests from a small-but-vocal group of hard-line activists opposed to the award for the first lady because of her remarks last year that it would be in the long-term interest of the Middle East for Palestine to be a state. The award presented to Clinton detailed much of the first lady’s work on behalf of children, women and the underprivileged, but did not mention Israel or the Middle East. But from the podium, the Israeli soldier whose jeep intercepted a suicide bomber trying to ram a busload of Israeli children on Oct. 29, 1998, hailed Clinton for her support for Middle East peace as he presented her with a silver dove. “Your efforts for peace in the Middle East are appreciated by those of us whose lives are at stake,” he said. In a speech heavy on Democratic themes — pro-choice, opposition to a tax cut, support for Medicare — Clinton poked fun at herself for media reports that she speaks to former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who was the first recipient of the award named 50 years ago for Hadassah’s founder. “I did not think I could give a speech tonight without talking it over with Mrs. Roosevelt and Mrs. Szold,” Clinton said, drawing laugher and applause from the delegates. She turned serious when talking about Jerusalem. “Just as Jerusalem is home to your hospital, we all look forward to the day Jerusalem will be home to the embassy of the United States and all other embassies,” she said. Last month Clinton publicly adopted Israel’s position that Jerusalem is its “eternal and indivisible” capital and expressed support for eventually moving the embassy. While short on specifics, Clinton called on Congress to “make good on the promises the president made” during the Wye River accords last fall, to provide more than $2 billion in U.S. aid to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians. “The people of Israel have lived for too long with bombs, they have lived with the awful fear that their children will not come home from school alive,” she said, vowing to “do everything in our power to facilitate, not dictate, the peace process.”