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Huckabee reemerges – in Israeli settlements

The former, and perhaps future, US presidential candidate criticized Obama's policy, comparing rules about where Jews could live to racial segregation.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 17, 2009

Republican politician and political commentator Mike Huckabee visits a Jerusalem archaeological site known as City of David Monday.

Ronen Zvulun/REUTERS

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Jerusalem

In the first major Republican challenge to President Obama's Israel policy, former US presidential candidate Mike Huckabee visited a number of controversial Jewish housing projects in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem on Monday.

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The former governor of Arkansas – a Southern Baptist minister who was one of the main contenders for the Republican Party's 2008 nomination for president – took issue with Obama's insistence that Israel freeze the expansion of all Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Standing next to a new Israeli housing compound wedged into the Arab neighborhood of Abu Dis and abutting the looming cement security barrier, he compared placing restrictions on where Jews can live to the racial segregation of his childhood in the American South, saying, "I can't understand it at all."

Mr. Huckabee, who may well have designs on another presidential run, is in Israel as the guest of The Jerusalem Reclamation Project, run by the settler group Ateret Cohenim. Under the project, the group buys real estate – both land and existing buildings – in Arab areas of Jerusalem where Palestinians hope to make the capital of their future state. A tax-exempt organization that receives most of its revenue from US donors, the group also regularly moves Jews into Arab neighborhoods, which would complicate any effort to partition Jerusalem as part of a peace plan.

The Obama administration recently spoke out against Israel allowing the group to pursue plans to turn an old building known as the Shepherd Hotel, in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, into a 20-unit apartment complex for Israelis. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been at odds with Obama's position, insisting that he would not accept limits on Israel building anywhere in the city it considers its "eternal and undivided" capital.

Irving Moskowitz, the Jewish-American millionaire who bought the hotel and gave it to the settler group, donated $2,300 – the maximum contribution limit at the time – to Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign, as did Moskowitz' wife, Cherna, according to the campaign-finance tracking website opensecrets.org. The couple gave a total of $50,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2007.

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Huckabee, who was scheduled to speak at a dinner Monday at Shepherd Hotel, said that while his three-day trip to Israel was not timed to rebuff Obama's Middle East policy, it was opportune nonetheless.

"The timing was not specifically tied to the Obama administration's policies, but maybe it's providential that it coincides because it does point out that those policies are a dramatic change from the position that the US government under both Democratic and Republican presidents have taken," he said in Abu Dis, the sweeping backdrop of Jerusalem behind him and a bevy of reporters and supporters in tow.

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