US President Barack Obama should use his upcoming Israel visit to make unmistakably clear that he will not allow Iran to attain a nuclear weapon and to draw a red line beyond which Tehran cannot progress in its pursuit of such weapons, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said Monday in Jerusalem.

Huckabee, who made a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, also said Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, must disclose financial records to dispel rumors he received a donation from a group called “Friends of Hamas,” and that if the rumors were true he would be unfit to hold any kind of office.

“I hope [Obama] will reassure the people of Israel that there is absolutely no way that America will stand by and let Iran develop a nuclear weapon. He needs to say that loudly, clearly and without equivocation,” Huckabee told The Times of Israel. “It needs to be an absolute line in the sand so that there is no ambiguity and that there’s no doubt on the part of the Iranian government that there is a line that cannot be crossed.”

Ahead of Obama’s first Israel visit as president, scheduled for March, several news reports claimed the primary reason for the trip and its timing was his intention to dissuade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from launching a preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities while the US was trying to solve the crisis through diplomatic means. Other reports claimed that the White House is trying to convince Jerusalem to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank in a bid to revive the stalled peace process with the Palestinians.

During the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu said he and the president agreed in a late-January phone conversation that the visit would focus on three main subjects: Iran’s nuclear weapons drive, the civil war in Syria and its possible repercussions for Israel, and the peace process.

Huckabee said Obama should not pressure Israel to return to the negotiating table with the Palestinians.

“I think the United States should push Palestine, the Palestinians, to recognize Israel’s right to exist. I’ve never felt that there’s any basis for moving forward until that very fundamental threshold is met,” he said. “Why would the Israelis believe they can move forward with an entity that does not even accept their existence, much less their right to exist?”

The White House should also refrain from demanding a settlement freeze, according to Huckabee. “It’s an issue that has to be resolved within Israel,” he said, adding that most Americans are more worried about Iran arming itself with nuclear weapons than about Jews building houses in their country.

‘Netanyahu is one of the most popular political figures in the US. Many people see him as the Churchill of our day’

Huckabee also commented on rumors that former senator and prospective defense secretary Chuck Hagel has received funds from a group called “Friends of Hamas.”

On Thursday, Breitbart News quoted anonymous “Senate sources” claiming that one of Hagel’s foreign donors is a group purportedly affiliated with the Palestinian terrorist group. The White House has so far not commented on the allegations.

“If that’s true,” Huckabee said, “then on its face it would disqualify him. It’s not longer an option whether he discloses all of his financial entanglements. He must. Because that rumor, if not true, has to be dispelled. If true, it absolutely disqualifies him from any consideration, even so much as to be a gatekeeper at a national park, much less the defense secretary.”

Asked how Netanyahu could use Obama’s visit to mend his rocky relationship with the administration, Huckabee, who hosts a popular television talk show in the US, said the prime minister might have issues with Obama but not with the American people.

“I would say [Netanyahu] is one of the most popular political figures in the US… I think many people see him as the [Winston] Churchill of our day, because he has a clarity about what security threats are faced not just by Israel but by the rest of the world. He has an uncanny historical perspective of why all of this matters and what the background is and Americans generally appreciate him.” Echoing a slogan from the Likud party’s election campaign, Huckabee added: “When he speaks, Americans listen.”

Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, where he is currently heading a group of some 200 Christian visitors to Israel, Huckabee also slammed the US administration for continuing to provide financial assistance to Egypt despite President Mohammed Morsi’s comments about Zionists and Israelis being bloodsuckers and descendants of apes and pigs.

If Netanyahu had said the same things about Egyptians, every country in the world would have immediately recalled their ambassadors from Israel, Huckabee said. The United Nations Security Council would have called an emergency meeting and resolutely censured and isolated Israel. “The condemnation would be so universal that Netanyahu very well may not be able to continue to serve as prime minister,” Huckabee said.

But Morsi’s comments drew little international protest, the former governor said. “Has anyone’s ambassador been recalled? Has there been any meeting at the UN yet?” he asked. “Where is the accountability? Not even a demand: an apology before another dime goes to your country.”