New York should have been the state to clarify the Democratic candidates' views on the Mideast, but it wasn't. It should have been the place for wide-ranging discussion, not only because more than a quarter of its primary election voters are Jewish but also because bankers, oil consultants, and other Middle East-watchers can be found in New York. But this didn't happen.
Instead, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart got hung up on what many observers consider to be a nonissue at this stage - the proposal to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
It is a nonissue, for one thing, some Middle East experts say, because once he became president, either Mr. Hart or Mr. Mondale might find it difficult to move the embassy. It is also a nonissue in the real world, as weightier matters would quickly crop up.
As former Undersecretary of State Joseph Sisco has pointed out, the proposed embassy move would not improve Israel's security. But its security could be affected by other issues, ranging from economic and military aid to arms sales, the Palestinian issue, and the Iran-Iraq war.
In the real world, the Iran-Iraq war could swiftly eclipse other issues, especially if Iran threatened oil lanes and nations on the southern side of the Gulf.
But the Democratic presidential candidates have touched only superficially on the matter of keeping the oil lifeline to Europe and Japan open. Mondale says that he would do everything necessary. Hart would support the Europeans, presumably with air and naval power, but would stop short of sending American ground forces.
Hart's posture appears to be in line with his reluctance to use force anywhere in the third world. But the question of oil from the Gulf - and militant Islam - deserves more debate. There is a Hart-Mondale difference here worth exploring.
When it comes to the much-debated Jerusalem embassy issue, meanwhile, Mondale charges that Hart was slow to endorse the embassy move and took the position that the issue should be decided by negotiations. Hart denies saying the location of the embassy should depend on negotiations.
Hart asks Mondale why the Carter administration failed to move the embassy. Mondale replies that Mr. Carter opposed such a move.