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(photo credit: IBA)
Just over a week after 2012 Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney visited Israel as part of a regional tour, another likely candidate – Mike Huckabee – is scheduled to arrive on Sunday for his 13th visit.
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While Huckabee is coming on his own initiative to lead a group of American Christian pilgrims, he will meet on Monday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – as Romney did – and take tours both of east Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria.
Although the presidential election is not until November 2012, and neither man has officially announced his candidacy, Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov.
Romney are running neckand- neck in US polling.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll from mid-January puts Huckabee as the favored candidate among Republican and independent voters, with 21 percent of the respondents saying they would vote for him in their state primary or caucus, 19% saying former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and 17% for Romney.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from the same period among Republicans and Republican-leading independents gave Romney a 1- percentage point lead over Huckabee, 19% – 18%, with Palin in third place with 14%.
Huckabee’s tour in Jerusalem on Monday is sponsored by Ateret Cohanim/ Jewish Reclamation Project, an organization spearheading efforts to buy property for Jewish homes in east Jerusalem.
Also on Monday, Huckabee -- who was invited to the Knesset by Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev -- will address the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee, at the request of committee chairman Danny Danon. In a rare appearance for a US presidential candidate before a Knesset committee, Huckabee will speak about diplomacy, anti- Semitism and Israel’s public relations effort.
Danon, who has hosted Huckabee on previous trips to Israel, said he would welcome other presidential candidates at his committee as well.
And on Tuesday, he will take a tour of the West Bank, led by Danny Dayan, as guest of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, which Dayan heads.
Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and an ordained Baptist minister who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, is a strong supporter of a Jewish presence throughout Jerusalem and settlement in the West Bank. In a Jerusalem Post interview in 2009, he said that while the Palestinians have a right to a homeland, it should not be within the boundaries of territory currently controlled by Israel.
“The point is that if you try to layer two governments on top of each other, there is going to be nothing but conflict,” Huckabee said at the time. “I don’t know how that would work. That comes back to the question of how you designate two owners of the same car.”Gil Hoffman contributed to this story.