Joe Clark, the new prime minister of Canada, promised during his campaign to move the Canadian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It was a play for the Jewish vote.Israel wants the world to recognize its sovereignty in Jerusalem - both in the half it held before the 1967 war and in the half it overran in 1967 and then annexed. Other countries have disdained the Israeli claim, feeling that nothing should be done to preempt determination of the ultimate status of Jerusalem by mutual agreement of Israelis and Arabs. Mr. Clark's campaign suggested a break with this traditional policy, and when he was elected the Arabs at once put on the economic pressure and forced a retreat.

The Arabs' use of their oil and money for a political purpose is certainly legitimate - at least as legitimate as Israel's use of its foreign friends in their home political arenas. But there is a considerable question whether the use of such power is acceptable, or rather, whether foreign governments will accept it. For some governments the answer is yes: Mr. Clark chose to accept a humiliation rather than tempt real economic damage. Japan, utterly dependent on Middle East oil, seems ready to jump through just about any hoop the Arabs hold. Austria, which received the PLO's leader on an official state visit that ended last week without asking him even to accept the existence of the state of Israel, has already jumped.

For the United States, however, or at least so one must hope, it is a different story. This country is dedicated to an "independent" foreign policy. Pride and the general conception of American global responsibilities that most Americans seem to hold account for this view. At the same time, no one can fail to notice that the United States is steadily increasing its oil imports from countries that believe its Mideast policy is profoundly mistaken and which by design or accident may yet put on the squeeze. This opens up a whole new range of scenarios in which the United States then counters with other sanctions, the last of which is force.

The tensions and emotions hovering over the Mideast can make it difficult to establish clearly the difference between adjusting policy judiciously to changing circumstances and bowing to blackmail. The United States can fairly say that so far it has stayed on the honorable side of that divide. But it only invites speculation and, more serious, miscalculation for the United States to keep on blindly putting itself in hock to countries with their own view of how the world ought to be run. Mr. Carter, who brought up the Canadian case to journalists the other day, was entirely right to note how well it makes the point.