(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel should not have to trade land for peace, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said as he explained to a small group of reporters Tuesday morning why he believed Israel should remain sovereign both in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
"As an American, I do not feel that the Israelis are obligated or required to give up land in order to bring peace," said Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister who earlier this year lost his bid to become the Republican party's presidential nominee but still holds sway with the key evangelical constituency.
During the press conference, Huckabee spoke of his admiration for US President George W. Bush even as he took issue with his support for a two-state solution that involves giving portions of the West Bank and Jerusalem to the Palestinians.
That, Huckabee said, would be "irrational" from both the security and effective governance perspectives.
"You do not achieve peace by creating a situation where you can not defend your borders and therefore protect your citizens. Having a temporary cessation of hostility is not peace if while that cessation of hostility is going on, just across the border, arms are being built up for the purpose of eventually pushing that border down," Huckabee said.
If he were an Israeli father tucking his children into bed at night, he said, he would want to know that the country's borders were well defended.
How could that father sleep well "knowing that not that many feet away someone has a rocket pointed at him?" he asked.
Huckabee recalled his own fears as a child growing up at the height of the Cold War with communist Cuba only 90 miles (145 km.) from US soil.
So he could only imagine, he said, how much more worse it would feel to have a dangerous country only 90 feet (27 meters) away.
Huckabee said his stance on Israel stemmed from common sense and not religious belief.
When he first became governor in 1996, he recalled, there was a six hour period in which he overlapped with his predecessor who had resigned but then changed his mind at the last moment.
"We had a standoff for [six] hours" during which both he and his predecessor believed they were in charge of the state. It was very confusing, the state troopers, the national guard, the state agencies all wanted to know who was in charge, he recounted. "Having two governors was not workable for six hours," let alone for years, Huckabee said.
If this were the United States, he said, no one would entertain even for a moment the notion that "you would have two sovereign governments working the same street. It is unrealistic, frankly beyond that it is irrational," Huckabee said.
This would be true even if there were good relations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, he said. The problem was made worse by the fact that there aren't.
He did not say where a Palestinian state should be located. What was obvious, he said, was that this Palestinian state did "not have to be on top of Israeli land," he said. If one looked at the map of the Middle East, then "we are talking about a postage stamp where Israel is" and "we are talking about an extra-ordinary footprint for land controlled by Arabs," Huckabee said.
Why should a Palestinian state be founded on top of a "tiny space of real estate" that belonged to the Jews during biblical times and where it was logical that a Jewish state should exist in modern times, he asked.
"The Jewish people have a right to a homeland" and this is the realistic place for it. But part and parcel of that belief was a responsibility to provide the state with defensible borders, Huckabee said.
He added that he does not believe that Israel's interests were served by placing a Palestinian state, particularly one with a populations that had ties to Hamas, in either Jerusalem or the West Bank.
He said his position was consistent with promises that had been made to the Israel's governments by the United States.
His observations about Israel and the Palestinians were made the result of nine previous trips over the past 35 years, he said.
This 10th visit on Monday and Tuesday was sponsored by the Jerusalem Reclamation Project, the US arm of Ateret Cohanim, which works to acquire property in east Jerusalem and settle Jews there.
During his visit Huckabee toured Jewish housing projects in predominantly Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, visited Sderot and met with Likud Party leader Binyamin Netanyahu.
Huckabee lauded the work of the the Jewish Reclamation Project, which "is going about the process the right way, not forcibly taking territory but doing it the old fashioned way, purchasing land and having families move into neighborhoods."
Similarly, he said, Palestinians should be free to live in Jerusalem and the West Bank, but in doing so they should be under Israeli sovereignty and not that of the Palestinian Authority.
When asked if equal rights including the vote should be afforded the Palestinians living under Israeli sovereignty in those areas, Huckabee said it was up to Israel to set the citizenship rules within its state.
"That is a delicate area," he said, adding that he did not want to impose his views on the situation or to Americanize it. He noted, however, that it took the United States a long time to work out its issues of suffrage and civil rights.
At one point during the press conference, when Huckabee spoke passionately about his support for a Greater Israel, New York Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who accompanied Huckabee on his trip, turned to the former governor and said, "I just want to announce that I am supporting you for president."
"Good, because I couldn't get enough Republicans to do so," Huckabee responded.