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Today's Top News
Republicans Attack Obama on Palestine Policy
WASHINGTON - Former Republican
presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee has been in Israel and the occupied
West Bank this week, stridently criticising Pres. Barack Obama's
policies of pushing for an Israeli settlement freeze and the
establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Huckabee, a former two-term governor of Arkansas, is a leading contender to be the Republican Party candidate in the 2012 presidential election. His voicing of outspoken criticism of Obama while visiting a foreign country has raised many questions here over whether the old U.S. saying that "Partisan politics stops at the water's edge" still applies.
In addition, the fact that he and House Minority (Republican) Whip Eric Cantor have aligned themselves so closely on the key issue of settlements with Israel's rightwing government, rather than with Obama, is an indication of a deeper shift in U.S. politics.
It used to be that Israeli governments got more support from the Democratic Party than from Republicans. Now, this rightwing government in Israel is getting deeper and more vocal support from many Republicans than it is getting from most Democrats.
The shift has not been total. Like Huckabee and Cantor, House Majority (Democratic) Leader Steny Hoyer has also been in Israel in recent weeks. And like them, while there he criticised Obama's policy on settlements.
All three men have been among the numerous U.S. legislators and other politicians who have visited Israel this summer as the guests of pro-Israeli organisations.
However, Huckabee is the only one of these three figures who expressed adamant opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian stat - an outcome that Obama and before him President George W. Bush both supported.
Huckabee is the only one of these prominent visitors to Israel who was hosted there by the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, an organisation that actively funds the implantation of additional Jewish settlers into occupied East Jerusalem. Cantor and Hoyer had their trips paid for by an organisation affiliated with the big - but much more mainstream – American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC.
Huckabee is also the only prominent U.S. visitor this summer who spent most of his time not in Israel itself but in the settlements in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. One of the places he visited, the settlement outpost Givat Olam, is considered "unauthorised" even by Israel's very pro-settler government.
He is planning to air two different shows for Fox News this weekend from the settler-controlled Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem.
Writing on his HuckPac blog Wednesday, Huckabee described the cities of Nablus, Bethlehem and Ramallah, located in the heart of the Palestinian West Bank, as parts of Israelis' "own country". He added that he believed that Israelis "should be able to live wherever they want in that country".
He told an AP reporter that he had "no problem" with the idea of the Palestinians getting a state of their own. But he added, "Should it be in the middle of the Jewish homeland? That's what I think has to be honestly assessed as virtually unrealistic." He told journalists there were "a lot of places all over the planet" that could host the Palestinian state, though he declined to specify which place he would favour.
Herb Keinon reported in Israel's conservative Jerusalem Post that Huckabee told Israeli journalists about his religious commitment as an evangelical Baptist pastor.
Huckabee then reportedly said of his fellow-evangelicals, "We are very much of the understanding that if there had not been Judaism, there would not be Christianity... We have no organic connection, for example, to Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and atheism. But we have absolute, total genetic DNA ties to Judaism."
Keinon wrote that one Israeli journalist wondered aloud whether Huckabee was just "an American version of [Israeli politician] Moshe Feiglin: a marginalised, out-of-office politician on the far right with little national significance."
But, he noted, "Huckabee does have national significance, even if he is out of office."
Indeed, on Thursday, Public Policy Polling (PPP) reported that Huckabee, who came second only to John McCain in last year's Republican primary, now looks like the strongest Republican candidate in 2012.
PPP's Tom Jensen reported that if the election were held tomorrow and Huckabee and Obama were the candidates, Huckabee would come within three percentage points of Obama: 44 percent to 47 percent.
Many things can change between now and 2012, of course. Right now, Obama is being hammered hard on the health care question, and his national popularity, though still strong, is starting to fall.
Many U.S. progressives who worked hard to get Obama elected are starting to express concern that, on the Palestinian-Israeli issue as on health care, he and his administration seem to have lost the momentum.
On health care, Obama missed a stated deadline of getting Congress to pass reform legislation before the August recess. And when Democratic lawmakers went back to their districts for the recess and tried to discuss health care reform with constituents, many faced virulent opposition from loosely organised networks of rightwing opponents.
But at least, on health care, Obama and his fellow Democrats in the House and Senate have been working hard to formulate and then push for an actual plan. And Obama and his cabinet members have been proactively making their pro-reform arguments heard as widely as possible - even during the recess.
On the Palestine question they have been much quieter.
Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have continued to issue periodic, largely pro forma restatements of the policies Obama articulated several months ago about the need for a settlement freeze and an eventual Palestinian state.
But so far neither Obama, nor Clinton, nor special envoy George Mitchell has done anything to operationalise either of these stated goals.
And thus far, no one in the administration has done anything to tackle head-on the arguments that Huckabee and other influential U.S. figures have been making so loudly about the supposed dangers to Israelis and the U.S. of the president's Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy.
That has allowed Huckabee and the other critics to dominate the airwaves on these issues and to frame the debate just about however they want in the important court of U.S. public opinion.