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.
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.
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
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
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".
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
Herb Keinon reported in Israel's conservative Jerusalem
Post that Huckabee told Israeli journalists about his religious
commitment as an evangelical Baptist pastor.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.