JERUSALEM – Former U.S. presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said Tuesday there should be no Palestinian state in the West Bank and endorsed Israeli settlements there, sharply disagreeing with Washington and much of the world.
A three-day tour of Israel, hosted by a far-right group of religious nationalists, is taking Huckabee to some of the most contentious hotspots in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict including a West Bank settlement outpost that even Israel's hard-line government considers illegal and an east Jerusalem housing project that the Obama administration has demanded be halted.
Israel officially refuses to freeze its settlement activity, but officials have confirmed that approval is now being withheld from fresh projects.
Huckabee's opposition to a Palestinian state puts him at odds with the accepted wisdom of both Democrats and Republicans -- and to some degree even with conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has come out in favor of some form of Palestinian independence.
Speaking to a small group of foreign reporters in Jerusalem, Huckabee said the international community should consider establishing a Palestinian state some place else.
"The question is should the Palestinians have a place to call their own? Yes, I have no problem with that. Should it be in the middle of the Jewish homeland? That's what I think has to be honestly assessed as virtually unrealistic."
The politician, a Southern Baptist preacher and a two-time former governor of Arkansas, praised Israel for giving Muslims access to Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock -- also once the site of the ancient Jewish temples -- even though the presence of a mosque there "could be considered an affront."
"Israel is a place where they're going to allow other cultures and religions, but don't ask the Jewish people whose homeland it is to completely yield over their ability to live within the context of their country," said Huckabee.
President Obama is calling for a complete freeze on Israeli settlement activity on lands the Palestinians claim for their would-be state.
Huckabee is being hosted by the Jerusalem Reclamation Project, a pro-settler group seeking to bolster the Jewish presence in traditionally Arab east Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope will serve as their future capital.
Their activities, some of them funded by American millionaire Irving Moskowitz, are aimed at blocking the division of the city as part of any future peace deal.
Huckabee said he welcomed a demonstration Monday night by anti-settlement protesters outside the Shepherd Hotel, the site of a planned housing project in east Jerusalem which the Obama administration has demanded be stopped and where the Moskowitz family hosted Huckabee for dinner.
He called the freedom to protest an "affirmation of everything that is wonderful and great about Israel and the United States."
During his tour, Huckabee will also visit the site of a planned neighborhood near Jerusalem that has also drawn U.S. ire and which Palestinians say will slice their future state in half. He will also travel to Hebron, the traditional burial place of the Biblical patriarch Abraham and the focus of particularly acute tensions between Muslims and Jews.