THE run-up to the voting in New York State today has cast helpful light on the qualifications of two of the Democratic candidates for the presidency of the United States - Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts and Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee. The remarks the two have made have exposed what each would do, and would not do, to attract voters from the Jewish community, which casts about 25 percent of the vote in a Democratic Party primary in New York.
We see from the record that Senator Gore said everything that the most radical Zionists could want a candidate to say.
Governor Dukakis, himself a sturdy supporter of Israel from the beginning of his political career, was restrained. He disappointed many of the more radical Zionists in his audiences.
The difference between the positions of the two men came out over the question of whether there should someday be a homeland for Palestinians in Palestine. Mr. Gore said no. Mr. Dukakis declined to say no.
Between those differing positions lies the central Middle East fact that either there will be, someday, a homeland for Palestinians on the West Bank of the Jordan River and on the Gaza Strip, or there will be one and perhaps several more wars between Israel and the Arabs.
The nations of the world, Israel consenting, adopted United Nations Resolution 242, in the wake of the 1967 war. It called for Israeli withdrawal from ``occupied territories'' (in the English version, ``Les territoires occup'e'' in the French text, which is equally official) in return for recognition by the Arabs of Israel within ``secure and recognized borders.''
The trade of land for peace has been the official goal of United States foreign policy toward the Middle East ever since. It is the thrust of Secretary of State George Shultz's present push for a lasting peace in the Middle East. It was accepted Israeli policy until the prime ministry of Menachem Begin. It is being opposed now by present Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
Both Mr. Gore and Mr. Dukakis have been in public life long enough to know that there can be no lasting peace between Arabs and Israel without an Israeli withdrawal of its armed forces from most of the occupied territories.
Both candidates know that the next president of the United States will have to push along the road Mr. Shultz is treading - trying to persuade, guide, and perhaps someday push Israel toward that indispensable withdrawal.
Earlier in the New York campaign Richard Cohen, an editorial page writer on the Washington Post, wrote a column that appeared in that newspaper March 31 under the headline ``Pandering to Jewish Voters.'' It was written just after Mr. Gore had delivered a speech accusing his two opponents, Mr. Dukakis and Jesse Jackson, of insufficient devotion to Israel.
The Rev. Mr. Jackson has long favored US support for a Palestinian state, and for dealing directly with the Palestine Liberation Organization toward that end. Candidate Jackson was on the sidelines of the rivalry between Mr. Dukakis and Mr. Gore for New York Jewish votes.
Mr. Cohen concluded his comments on the subject with the following:
``If Albert Gore really wants to be presidential, he should remember that, unlike Ed Koch [Mayor of New York], the policies he espouses in Brooklyn will have to be carried out beyond Flatbush. In the Middle East his words may come back to haunt him.''
In other words, by writer Cohen's standards, Mr. Gore has been pandering to Jewish voters. By contrast Mr. Dukakis was being responsible. He might someday be president, and he might need very much to push Israel toward withdrawal from ``occupied territories.''
Thus in the New York primary campaign ending at the voting booths today, Senator Gore played the feckless demagogue, while Governor Dukakis was responsible and ``presidential.''
It will be particularly interesting to find out, when the votes begin to come in tonight, whether Albert Gore's ``pandering'' or Michael Dukakis's prudence was more appealing to the voters of Flatbush.