Diplomacy: Standing with the settlements

Huckabee used his visit to challenge Obama by opening 'American eyes' to a different view of the W. Bank.

Huckabee cool Jerusalem 248.88 (photo credit: )
Huckabee cool Jerusalem 248.88
(photo credit: )
With a reception at east Jerusalem's contentious Shepherd Hotel compound, a lunch in Har Bracha overlooking Nablus, and a tour amid the goats and ancient wine presses at the unauthorized outpost of Givot Olam near Itamar, Mike Huckabee's recent four-day visit diverged mightily from the usual "fact-finding" itinerary for countless visiting politicians. Throw in that the visit was sponsored by Ateret Cohanim, which is spearheading efforts to purchase property for Jews in east Jerusalem, and the former Baptist preacher, Arkansas governor and once-and-future presidential candidate's trip becomes nothing if not out of the ordinary. The tour's itinerary, and Huckabee's public pronouncements that he did not support a two-state solution and that Jews in Israel should be allowed to live wherever they desired, were so "out of the box" that one writer for a leading Hebrew paper wondered how much coverage his paper should give Huckabee, and whether he was "no more" than an American version of Moshe Feiglin: a marginalized, out-of-office politician on the far right with little national significance. But Huckabee does have national significance, even if he is out of office. For starters, over the last few months he has consistently polled among the three top Republican contenders for the party's nomination in 2012, neck-and-neck with Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. Additionally, as host of the top rated cable news show in its Saturday evening time slot for Fox, and a man with a daily commentary show on the ABC Radio Network, Huckabee's voice carries weight with not insignificant swaths of the American public. Granted, that public is overwhelmingly conservative and Evangelical Christian, but that, too, is a key part of the American quilt. On Tuesday morning, driving up the spine of Samaria on a road dubbed the Way of the Patriarchs, Huckabee, referring to Evangelical support for Israel, said, "We are very much of the understanding that if there had not been Judaism, there would not be Christianity. I don't think the Jewish people fully appreciate this. We have no organic connection, for example, to Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and atheism. But we have absolute, total genetic DNA ties to Judaism." The upshot of that, he said, "was that it is very easy for the Christian community to be supportive of the right of the Jews to have a homeland, and believe there should be security in that homeland." WHILE HUCKABEE was aware of his influence and standing in the Republican Party, he had no illusions about whom else he could impact. The self-deprecating, 55-year-old from Hope, Arkansas (Bill Clinton's hometown), readily admitted that the Obama administration was not exactly sitting in emergency session this week trying to figure out how to counter his trip, even if AP termed the visit "provocative." "The State Department is not having a meeting today in DC, saying, 'Oh my gosh, Huckabee is in the Middle East; that is really shaking us up.' I'm not so naïve," he said, adding that the State Department and the Obama administration couldn't care less what he thought. "They don't call and ask my views. But I would like to be able to help the American people understand why Israel is important to them. What I would like to do is to influence the opinion of ordinary American citizens." The way to do this, Huckabee said, riding in a cramped bullet-proof bus, was to have Americans look at the situation here through "their American eyes"; to urge them to apply the same standards they use in America to judge what is going on over here. "If we apply our own US standards to this situation, we would never allow our government, or some other government, restrict us in where we live based on ethnicity, religion or ancestry. Here is the point. The question is not, 'Can I go take someone's property away from them,' but rather, 'If I buy a piece of property, don't I have the right to live in it?' Americans will say, 'If I can make the payments on it, and pay the taxes on it, and keep the yard mowed, you mean to tell me I can't live there?'" Referring to the left-wing protesters who demonstrated at his visit to the Shepherd Hotel compound Monday night, Huckabee said while they were screaming epithets like "racist" at him, "I'm thinking the Moscowitz family bought the property, they pay taxes on it, they have all the permits. They didn't go thumb their noses at the government and say they are going to do whatever they want. They went through a very tedious, thorough, painful and expensive legal process to get all the permits to renovate and redevelop the building. "People ought to applaud them for taking an old, beat up building, developing it and making it very nice. In the US, Americans would say that is a wonderful thing, and call it 'land improvement.'" As to the Palestinian counterargument that Israel had no right to issue permits there, since the land was not its to zone, Huckabee again framed things in what he would characterize as an American way. "You can't have two people claiming the same real estate. There was a war. I'm sorry it happened, but it did. Israel didn't provoke a war, and when it was over, they had some territory. Historically what that means is, you know, 'You don't want to lose your land, don't start a war with us.'" Huckabee said his intention was not to be insensitive. "Look at Africa, so many lands have change hands there. In Europe, the lands have changed hands. In America, we could say that the land was once Native American. So, should we now argue we need to get the $24 dollars back and give up Manhattan?" He said he was not opposed to a Palestinian state, but was not convinced it would be wise to put it in Israel's backyard. There were, he said, "a lot of places all over the planet" that could serve that purpose, although he did not re-endorse an idea he threw out in 2007 that a Palestinian state could be created in parts of Saudi Arabia or Egypt. "This may not be practical," he said. "But I'd rather have that talked about and rejected, than continuing to talk about a plan that obviously won't be accepted by either side with any sense of embrace. That just simply hasn't panned out." Huckabee bristled at criticism he was "slamming" America on foreign soil by taking issue with US President Barack Obama's Middle East polices, saying that wherever he went he always extolled the virtues, values and freedoms of America. His affinity to Israel, he said, was largely because it shared those traits. "I realize the position I take on a united Jerusalem, particularly on two states, is not conventional," Huckabee said dryly and with obvious understatement. "But I also remember that [former US president] Ronald Reagan came into office calling the Soviet Union the 'evil empire,' and saying we ought to tear down the Berlin wall. People said that was the dumbest thing they ever heard, naïve, and asked what kind of idiot would come and suggest something as radical as that." But, he said, "10 years later there was no Soviet Union, the Berlin wall was down, and the eastern bloc of nations were shouting freedom. Sometimes we end up with what we have because we look for things too small, rather than dream things too big. If we continue to focus on the sand in front of us, instead of the sky above us, sometimes we end up with nothing more than sand in our shoes - and then we wonder why we are walking uncomfortably."