EFRAT, West Bank — Former Arkansas governor and conservative talk show host Mike Huckabee donned a hard hat and laid bricks at a new housing complex in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on Wednesday.
“If President Trump could be here today, he’d be a very happy man,” said Huckabee standing in front of a large red “Build Israel Great Again,” sign, a play on the US president’s campaign slogan.
“I cannot tell you how proud I’ve been of the president as it relates to the land of Israel,” gushed the ex-governor and Trump ally, highlighting the White House recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December. Huckabee’s daughter Sarah Huckabee Sanders is White House spokesperson.
Huckabee, a longtime supporter of Israel who first visited in 1973 and has become a prominent backer of the settlement enterprise, said he was glad to see construction beyond the Green Line return to a more robust level than what was seen under former president Barack Obama.
Asked to reconcile comments made by Trump in the past referring to Israeli settlements as “unhelpful” and “not a good thing for peace,” Huckabee said he viewed towns like Efrat as “a bridge to peace.”
“Everyday 13,000 Palestinian workers come to job sites here, earning money for their families,” he said, pointing out that wages in the Israeli towns are much higher than those the laborers would earn in Palestinian ones.
Opponents of the settlement movement argue that Israeli limits on Palestinian businesses in the West Bank stagnate economic growth to the point where many Palestinian workers are forced to rely on working in settlements for viable economic wages.
During a brief period allotted for questions from reporters, Huckabee was pressed to elaborate on his assertion that Israelis in communities like Efrat are safe, in light of last week’s deadly terror attack in the Adam settlement where a 31-year-old father of two was killed.
“There’s no such thing as a perfectly pristine community where nothing happens,” he said, asking the crowd if they would “rather live here or in Kabul.”
For his part, Efrat mayor and Yesha foreign spokesperson Oded Revivi said his town is “quite close to the place of perfection” from a security standpoint. He pointed out that children return home on weekends in the middle of the night to sleeping parents, who do not have to worry about their safety.
As Huckabee laid bricks in front of a new housing complex on the edge of Efrat, he revealed that he “might one day like to purchase a holiday home” in the community, in the Etzion Bloc just south of Jerusalem.
Leaders of the Yesha settlement umbrella council, which organized the event, lauded Huckabee for his support and asked the Trump confidant to convey a message of gratitude back to the White House.
“We appreciate having an American administration that realizes and understands the importance of our being here,” said Revivi.
In Trump’s first meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he asked him to “hold back on settlements,” but the White House has since refrained from condemning any particular settlement project approved for construction in the West Bank.
Asked whether he was concerned there could be a sudden change in Trump’s policy, Revivi said he was aware of the US president’s unpredictability.
Earlier this week, Trump tweeted that he was willing to meet with Iran’s leaders at anytime, without preconditions, just one week after dramatically threatening the country.
“We can’t go to bed sure that his views will be the same the next day,” Revivi acknowledged. However, he asserted that the best way to predict US policy on any given issue is to keep in mind Trump’s pledge upon entering the White House to place “America first.”