Washington — A former presidential envoy to the Middle East says that Israel has not pushed for a move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and that introducing the issue in an election year was ''unfortunate.''
Sol M. Linowitz, a lawyer and diplomat who served as Middle East envoy for President Carter from 1979 to 1981, says that the very mention of the sensitive Jerusalem issue ''brings on lightning and thunderclaps'' in the Middle East.
''I'm deeply troubled that this has arisen in an election year,'' said Linowitz in a breakfast meeting with reporters. ''I think it's unfortunate. I think it helps nobody to make this a political issue. . . .''
Ambassador Linowitz said that when he negotiated with then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, there was an understanding that the parties would only ''quietly - and with great care - touch this issue to see if there is some way of dealing with it.''
At the same time, Linowitz said one could not ignore the point which Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York keeps making: of the 135 nations or so with which the US has diplomatic relations, Israel is the only one where the US does not recognize its capital.
Senator Moynihan has introduced a bill that proposes that the US recognize reality and move its embassy from Israel's coastal city of Tel Aviv inland to Jerusalem. Moynihan has won the support of 38 cosponsors. In the House of Representatives, support has been even stronger for a parallel bill. Democratic presidential candidates Walter Mondale and Gary Hart have both spoken strongly in favor of such a move.
Ambassador Linowitz said that establishing the American embassy in West Jerusalem is perhaps ''do-able at the right time and in the right way and with the right explanation, but not when being pressed by a bunch of senators and congressmen eager to make points in an election year.'' Linowitz described his position on the proposed embassy move as one of ''maybe, but not now.''
''The question that has to be asked is, one, is it helpful to the United States to make this move?'' said Linowitz. ''I think the argument there is . . . that it does not help the United States to lose its position as arbiter, as the intermediary, in what might be done between Israel and the Arab states.''
As a second question, said Linowitz, one has to ask ''Is this helpful to Israel? Does it really help Israel to have its champion no longer in a position to be helpful in the Arab world?''
''All those things have to be weighed, and I'm afraid they're not being weighed in the effort to attract the Jewish vote in New York and elsewhere,'' said Linowitz.
He said Senator Moynihan and his counterparts in the House took the embassy issue up on their own, and not at the instigation of Israel.
''Israel did not put it up,'' Linowitz said. ''That's one thing that I want to say unequivocally. I know personally how disturbed they (the Israelis) are at the way it was put forward.''
Linowitz also said that the main pro-Israeli lobbying group here, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), was ''dragged along'' into the issue by senators and congressmen.
''If you are AIPAC and you have guys with names like Moynihan leading the charge for Israel, you can't just remain on the sidelines,'' Linowitz said. ''You've got to prove how invaluable you are to this effort. So you put out booklets and things, and you climb aboard and you hoist the flag.''