Every U.S. administration since 1967 has opposed the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Israeli building in eastern Jerusalem, but a likely GOP presidential contender in 2012 this week sent another strong signal that could change if he gets into the White House.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee – who told the Jewish Week in 2008 that he wouldn't mind a Palestinian state, but not in Palestine – attended the cornerstone laying ceremony for the construction of 24 new homes in the Beit Orot neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem.
The new neighborhood centers on the Irving Moskowitz Yeshiva & Campus - Yeshivat Beit. Moskowitz, you may recall, is the controversial American businessman who has actively supported construction projects in Eastern Jerusalem.
Huckabee, who ran a surprisingly strong but ultimately unsuccessful campaign for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008 and is widely believed to be setting the stage for another run next year, has established himself as just about the only major league politician in either party who actively supports Israeli construction in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, leading to this question: will that position help or hurt his presidential quest?
Short answer: it depends.
His positions on Jerusalem “will likely help his capacity to raise campaign money; there's not much doubt about that,” said Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn. “That's not inconsequential at this stage of the game.”
His pro-settler stance and positions on Jerusalem will also play well with many Orthodox voters; there have already been indications Huckabee was emerging as the favorite contender among Orthodox Republicans, and this week's visit could cement that status.
Beyond that, these positions are likely to be non-issues in 2012.
“If Mike Huckabee gets the Republican nomination,this won't be an important part of why he gets it,” Kahn said. “Among the GOP party faithful, this is not a significant issue, and the number of Jewish Republicans, while possibly larger than ever before, isn't enough to make this a significant factor in his candidacy.”
You can bet it's not going to be much of a factor in Iowa and New Hampshire, early testing grounds for presidential hopefuls – especially as the Tea Party movement, with its relentless focus on domestic issues, continues its assault on GOP orthodoxy.
And among a Jewish Democratic faction that still tilts to the liberal side of the spectrum, Huckabee's settlement support is likely to be a political negative – not that many Jewish progressives would be likely to vote for the socially conservative Huckabee, a Baptist minister, anyway.
Still, the race for the nomination is an expensive marathon, and Huckabee's Israel visit this week could pay dividends where it matters most right now: early campaign cash.
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