(Inter Press Service)
Former Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee was in Israel and the occupied West Bank last week, stridently critici zing President Barack Obama’s policies of pushing for a freeze on Israeli settlements 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 outspoken criticism of Obama while visiting a foreign country has raised questions about whether the old saying that “Partisan politics stops at the water’s edge” still applies.
In addition, the fact that Huckabee and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) have closely aligned themselves with Israel’s rightwing government rather than with Obama on the key issue of settlements 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, Israel’s right ist government 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 Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has also been in Israel in recent weeks. And like them, he took the opportunity of his visit to critici ze 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 organi zations.
However, Huckabee is the only one of these three figures who expressed adamant opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state —an outcome that even President George W. Bush supported.
Huckabee is also the only one of these prominent visitors to Israel who was hosted by the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, an organi zation that actively funds the implantation of additional Jewish settlers into occupied East Jerusalem. Cantor’s and Hoyer’s trips were funded by an organi zation affiliated with the much more mainstream (but pro-Likud party) American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
In addition, Huckabee is the only prominent American 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 “unauthori zed” even by Israel’s very pro-settler government.
Writing on his HuckPac blog on August 18, 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.”
Huckabee 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 favor.
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 noted that one Israeli journalist wondered aloud whether Huckabee was just “an American version of [Israeli politician] Moshe Feiglin: a marginali zed, out-of-office politician on the far right with little national significance.”
But Keinon sees it differently: “Huckabee does have national significance, even if he is out of office.”
Indeed, on August 19, 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 now 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 health care policy, 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 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 organi zed 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 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 the president articulated several months ago about the need for a settlement freeze and a two-state solution.
But so far neither Obama, nor Clinton, nor special envoy George Mitchell has done anything to operationali ze either of these stated goals. (For more on this issue, see Leon Hadar, “Waiting for Obama,” Right Web, July 26, 2009.)
And thus far, no one in the administration has done anything to tackle head-on the arguments that Huckabee and other influential 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 other critics to dominate the airwaves on these issues and to frame the debate just about however they want.
A veteran Middle East analyst and author, Helena Cobban reports for the Inter Press Service and blogs at www.JustWorldNews.org.