Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee on Wednesday defended Israeli settlements, saying he does not consider the West Bank occupied and vowing to maintain this position as president, even if that means defying the entire international community.
“I’ve been alone a lot in my life about a lot of things, and I wouldn’t mind being alone if I felt it was the right thing. And I feel it is the right thing to stand with Israel in making sure that they have the right to secure their homeland with safe and defensible borders,” he said in response to a question from The Times of Israel.
Addressing reporters during a press conference in Jerusalem, the former Arkansas governor said the West Bank, which he insisted on calling by its Biblical name of Judea and Samaria, should not be considered “occupied.” That would imply Israel stole somebody else’s land, he said, but “I don’t see it that way.”
The international community accepted the creation of Israel in 1948 and the country’s boundaries “shifted” after the 1967 Six Day War, said Huckabee, who met earlier in the day with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But while virtually all governments in the world — including successive US administrations — oppose Israel’s presence in the West Bank and refuse to recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, Huckabee defended Israel’s hold on the territory.
‘Our government has put more pressure on the Israeli governments to stop building bedrooms in their own neighborhoods than they put on Iran to stop building bombs’
“I’m not sure why the international community would continue to expect Israel not to secure a safe and secure homeland for its people and to provide security,” he said.
“I cannot imagine that any American who comes here would somehow feel that the Israelis are out of line in wanting to put a safer barrier between them and their sworn enemies.”
Huckabee, who first visited Israel more than 40 years ago and regularly leads tourist trips here, also cited Israelis’ need for “adequate room for them to grow and have a place for their children and grandchildren and future generations.”
Said Huckabee: “It’s interesting to me that often our government has put more pressure on the Israeli governments to stop building bedrooms in their own neighborhoods than they put on Iran to stop building bombs.”
The future of Palestinians living in the West Bank lies in their own hands, the former Baptist minister said, declaring that peace will be possible only when Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist, end incitement against Jews and disavow terrorism. Asked whether that means he could envision the establishment of a Palestinian state on parts of the West Bank, which would entail the evacuation of Israeli settlers, he replied that he had never endorsed such a plan.
“I never supported, ever, the notion that a two-state solution would mean that Israelis would be disrupted from their homeland. Palestinian peace is something to be (discussed) separate(ly), but I think the notion of two governments operating on the same piece of real estate is unrealistic and unworkable.”
In an unusual move for an American presidential candidate, Huckabee on Tuesday attended a fundraiser at the Ancient Shiloh archaeological site in the West Bank, and expressed strong support for Israel’s settlement movement.
Israel has more of a connection to Judea and Samaria than Americans have to their cities, he said. The US’s relationship to Manhattan is about 400 years old. “If I came and said, we need to end our occupation of Manhattan, I’m pretty sure that most Americans would find that laughable,” he said. “The Israelis have a strong connection to Judea and Samaria.”
Shiloh was Israel’s 3,500 years ago and the seat of its Tabernacle, Huckabee noted. “It’s a place of great history to the Jewish people. The fact that it’s in Samaria is immaterial to me, because I would happily go to Shiloh at any time.” He called on Israelis and American tourists to visit the site.
Speaking to Israeli and American reporters in Jerusalem’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, Huckabee on Wednesday reiterated his staunch opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, calling it a “clear and present danger” to Israel and the US and vowing to annul it if he were to become president.
“I would most certainly undo it,” he pledged. Instead, he would “replace” it with sanctions on Iran and seek to increase US energy exports to have Europe, Asia and Africa less dependent on Iranian oil.
The nuclear agreement the US and five world powers signed with Iran last month is “unacceptable” and “does nothing put empower a rogue nation” that has consistently threatened to wipe Israel and the US off the map, Huckabee said.