Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee delivered a confused and garbled press conference in Jerusalem during a brief campaign stop, which included a controversial fundraising visit to a settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories.
At times taking positions to the right of Israel’s government, the former governor of Arkansas at one stage described Russia as the “Soviet Union” – when referring to its plans to supply Iran with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles – before correcting himself.
He also seemed to suggest that the West Bank bordered one of Israel’s enemies, as opposed to Jordan, which has long enjoyed a peace treaty with Israel.
As Huckabee left the press conference, he also said he was unsure if he would be the first US president to abandon a commitment to a two-state solution, despite having no policy he could articulate on the future of Palestinians.
The press conference followed meetings with senior Israeli figures, including prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and followed his visit to the settlement of Shilo on the occupied West Bank where he held a private fundraiser with wealthy American settlers.
Taking a position to the right of even the declared statements of rightwing Israeli ministers who have argued for the annexation of parts of the West Bank, Huckabee, an evangelical Christian who has visited Israel dozens of times, repeated his comments made in Shilo that the West Bank was part of Israel, adding that Israel should be free to expand there.
“I think it is very important that as Americans we show support for Israelis in their capacity to build their neighbourhoods in their own country,” he said.
“It is interesting to me that our government has put more pressure on the Israeli government to stop building bedrooms in their own neighbourhoods, than on Iran to stop building bombs.”
Asked about his visit to a settlement regarded as illegal under international law, Huckabee told journalists: “I was not in the least hesitant to go to Shilo.
“3,500 years ago it was the capital of Israel. The fact that it is in Samaria [the biblical name for the West Bank] is immaterial to me. I would happily go to Shilo at any time.
He declined, however, to reveal how much money he had raised.
In an interview earlier with the Israeli website Ynet , Huckabee disavowed years of US foreign policy, going out of his way to dismiss criticism of Israel’s settlement policy.
“I would love to see a true peace in the world, but the question is does Israel have a right to build bedrooms for the expanding number of people who are coming here, who are making aliyah [emigrating to Israel], to make sure their people have a secure land they can defend? I don’t know why anyone on this earth would think that they should surrender that right.”
Huckabee returned to the issue at the press conference, taking a position at odds with most of the international community regarding Israeli occupation.
On why the West Bank should be part of Israel, Huckabee appeared shaky on both geography and history, saying: “I cannot imagine that any American who comes here would somehow feel that the Israelis are out of line in wanting to have as safe a barrier between them and their sworn enemies as possible.”
The country neighbouring the West Bank, however, is Jordan which has a peace treaty with Israel.
Rejecting the use of the words “West Bank”, Huckabee said it should be called “Judea and Samaria”, adding: “I don’t see it as occupied, that makes it appear as if someone is illegally taking land. I don’t see it that way.”
He went on: “In America, we have about a 400-year relationship to Manhattan. It would be as if I came and said we need to end our occupation of Manhattan. I’m pretty sure most Americans would find that laughable.”
Asked about what his policies would mean for Palestinians in the single state he was advocating, Huckabee dodged the question.
He also stood by his comments made in an interview with the conservative website Breitbart last month, in which he said Barack Obama’s support for the Iranian nuclear deal would “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven”, words that were criticised in Israel as well as the US.
Huckabee is not the first Republican hopeful to make a campaign stop in Israel during a presidential election cycle – Mitt Romney did the same in 2012 . But Huckabee is certainly the first to have held a fundraiser for his campaign in an Israeli settlement.
Huckabee’s campaign increasingly has been marked by a series of controversies including his backing for Paraguay’s decision to deny an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim.
In an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union , Huckabee argued that the Paraguayan government’s refusal to allow an abortion for the child, who gave birth last week after being raped by her stepfather, prevented a second tragedy.
In another ill-judged intervention, Huckabee told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer this week that the civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King would be “appalled” by the Black Lives Matter movement .
“When I hear people scream ‘black lives matter’, I think, ‘of course they do’. But all lives matter. It’s not that any life matters more than another,” Huckabee said.
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