Huckabee cool Jerusalem 248.88.
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Former Arkansas governor and US presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee kicked off his visit to Israel on Monday by telling reporters that recent American policy toward the Jewish state has been "far more harsh" than that of previous administrations. He questioned US President Barack Obama's authority to dictate where Israelis could or could not live in Israel.
"My question is how the government of the United States would feel if Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu began to dictate which people could live in the Bronx, which ones could live in Manhattan and which could live in Queens," Huckabee told reporters as he toured the City of David in east Jerusalem.
But what does Huckabee, who is being touted as a leading candidate for the Republican presidential ticket in 2012 and who is set to tour settlements in the West Bank on Tuesday, have to gain from visiting the very areas that have put the Obama administration at loggerheads with the Israeli government, and taking a tough stance against recent American policy in the region?
"I don't think it's as much about what Huckabee has to gain, but what Obama stands to lose," Eytan Gilboa, an expert on Israeli-American relations at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "I think Huckabee wants to oppose Obama on this issue and basically say, 'You're for the creation of a Palestinian state, I'm against it. You're for a settlement freeze, and I'm against it.' He's basically telling Obama that he's abandoning a strong ally."
Gilboa, who recently returned from a visit to the US, also dismissed the leaked memo written by Israel's consul-general in Boston, Nadav Tamir, which said that the current friction in the US-Israeli relationship was eroding public support among the American public and harming Israel's strategic ties with the US.
"I didn't see those kinds of developments," Gilboa said. "We have new opinion polls that actually show American public opinion disagreeing with the Obama administration's approach toward Israel, and I think Huckabee is seizing on that. In that sense, this visit should be looked upon as an opportunity to exploit a vulnerability with regard to Obama's foreign policy."
Additionally, Gilboa explained, growing American discontent over Obama's gestures in the larger Arab world could be seized upon as well.
Whereas Obama has visited Egypt and Saudi Arabia in recent months - and not Israel - Gilboa said the majority of Americans polled did not view either of those countries as allies, while they overwhelmingly did view Israel as one.
"Obama gave his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, and 39 percent of Americans believe that Egypt is an ally," Gilboa said. "Twenty-five percent actually consider Saudi Arabia to be an enemy, and at the same time, 81% of Americans said they believed the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state. So where you usually expect the American president to shape public opinion - especially with regard to foreign policy - this is not the case [with regard to Israel], and Huckabee knows that."
Therefore, Gilboa explained, while Huckabee's visit may have the added effect of boosting him in the polls for 2012, the next presidential elections are still far off. What could be gleaned from Huckabee's arrival, and his tough rhetoric, is a well-landed attack on Obama's policies in the Middle East, and a boost for a Republican Party still on the ropes after its dismal showing in 2008 and struggling to find issues to rally the voters.
"And it's not just Republicans," Gilboa said. "Remember that over 70 US senators, from across party lines, just signed a letter to Obama [encouraging the president to press for the normalization of ties between Arab states and Israel], and that was an unusual step by Congress. It put [Obama] on notice. So if you combine that with Obama's recent meeting with Jewish leaders [in which the president tried to calm them over recent tensions with Israel], I think that it's becoming clear that the president will have to rethink his approach [in the Middle East].
"Overall, Huckabee's visit should be seen in the larger context of US-Israeli relations, which many people feel are going in the wrong direction, and feel that Obama is responsible for that," Gilboa said. "Huckabee has the ability to show Obama that he doesn't have bipartisan support for his policies toward Israel, and that if he wants to depart from tradition, he's going to be opposed."