JERUSALEM. When Senator Hillary Clinton visited Israel last week, she didn't pop by the Arafat compound, nor did she meet with leaders of Peace Now.
Instead, Mrs. Clinton, a New York Democrat, was the guest of Binyamin Elon, the leader of the Moledet party, Israel's tourism minister and a long-time advocate of "transferring" the Palestinian population out of the West Bank and Gaza.
While the right-ward tilt of Mrs. Clinton's brief Middle East swing is bound to be debated in the United States, it is the increasing visibility of Mr. Elon that is raising eyebrows in Israel. Indeed, Mr. Elon is seemingly everywhere of late courted by the media and honored by international leaders.
Political observers say his recent spate of public appearances is meant to popularize the "transfer" concept. Thus far, he has succeeded in snapping up both national support and international attention. Recent polls show that as many as one in three Israelis supports the concept of the forced displacement of Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza and into other Arab states.
Israel's leading Russian-language daily, Vesti, published a poll indicating that 37% of Russian immigrants support this policy, while 35% of respondents to a poll conducted by the daily Ma'ariv said they support transfer.
Mr. Elon's post as tourism minister, while traditionally considered one of the weaker portfolios in the Israeli cabinet, has afforded him a platform to forge close working relationships with leading American and international organizations among them the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. On one of his two February visits to Israel hosted by Mr. Elon, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, praised Mr. Elon for hosting a delegation of 12 American heroes of September 11. Mr. Hoenlein, however, dismissed transfer as neither a "viable, nor possible" idea.
Mr. Elon has capitalized on his relationships with American groups, sharing a stage last Saturday night with Mrs. Clinton. Her short solidarity mission to Israel, sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council, was meant to show that Israel is safe to visit, she said.
Mrs. Clinton also endorsed the increasingly heavy pressure on the Palestinian Authority and its chairman, Yasser Arafat. "Yasser Arafat leaves a trail of violated vows and death along a path that could have and should have led to peace and life," she told a gathering of the Conference of Presidents.
"[Arafat] has failed as a leader to rein in the forces of violence and terrorism... He can apprehend, prosecute and imprison known terrorists," said Mrs. Clinton. "He knows who the terrorists are, where they are, and what they're doing. There is no excuse for his failure to stop terrorism."
That Mrs. Clinton shared a table with someone who would prefer crushing the P.A. to negotiating with it did not escape criticism. "It was embarrassing to see an important representative of democracy sitting down to dinner with Minister Elon, who openly espouses the racist doctrine of transfer," said the Knesset opposition leader and chairman of the Meretz party, Yossi Sarid.
While he is gaining greater international exposure, chiefly in the United States, Mr. Elon is also flexing his political muscle in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet.
Pressure from Mr. Sharon's right flank, namely the threat of resignation by National Infrastructure Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Mr. Elon, moved Mr. Sharon to only partially lift the travel ban that has left Mr. Arafat essentially confined to his Ramallah offices. The security cabinet voted to allow Mr. Arafat to leave his offices but not Ramallah. Both ministers threatened to bolt the government should Mr. Arafat's travel ban be lifted further.
Lately, Mr. Elon has been a frequent guest on Israel's radio news shows and is often quoted in the country's daily newspapers. In a Sunday Washington Post article analyzing Mr. Arafat's confinement in Ramallah, the views of four government ministers were presented: Mr. Sharon, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Mr. Elon.
One of Mr. Elon's aides told the Forward Tuesday that "there is not doubt that [Mr. Elon] is working very hard in the media to offset the voice of Peres and people like him."
Because of Mr. Elon's greater visibility, the aide said, and the rising death toll in the conflict with the Palestinians, Moledet offices all over the country have been bombarded with phone calls. Most call to sign up as volunteers, others "accuse us of being like the Germans."
But despite increased recognition of late from both visiting dignitaries and segments of the Israeli populace, Mr. Elon has been compelled in certain circles to curb his avowed support of the transfer idea.
During his speech before the Presidents Conference and Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Elon did not once mention the term "transfer." Instead he commended President Bush for his efforts to end the threat of terror and called on Israel to do the same. It was Israel's mission, he said in a veiled reference to transfer, to "uproot the infrastructure of the terror and to uproot those that cause us those difficult and hard days."
Mr. Elon, who succeeded former Moledet leader Rehavam Ze'evi as head of the party and as tourism minister when Ze'evi was assassinated in October, also shied away from reiterating his oft repeated belief that a Palestinian state already exists in Jordan.