SENATE CANDIDATE Hillary Rodham Clinton chose a tricky issue -- Jerusalem -- on which to underscore her "personal" foreign policy differences with President Clinton. She skipped past the fact that the city is treasured by three faiths, not just one; that Israelis unified it by arms, certainly not with Palestinian consent, in 1967, and that to move the American Embassy there now from Tel Aviv would undercut the American honest broker's role in the peace talks about to resume in the Middle East.

True, Mrs. Clinton's own words contained a hint of fudge indicating her anticipation of questions that her statement, to the Orthodox rabbis of America, might stir. But her unmistakable thrust was favorable to the current official Israeli position, which is basically that the issue is already settled and is not open to negotiation. No one doubts that the diplomacy of the Jerusalem issue will be stressful. But no one who wishes the peace process well will deny that it can only hurt if one side takes a key piece off the table before the process gets underway.

The last time Mrs. Clinton spoke out on a Middle East matter, she expressed favor for the emergence of a Palestinian state -- and stirred discussion about whether she was acting as a stalking horse for the president and tilting toward the Palestinian side. This time she is tilting toward the Israeli side on an issue where the president is following his broker's strategy. The point is not that she is endorsing a different policy on Jerusalem. It is that, influenced at least in part by electoral considerations, she is expressing a mistaken position.