I wonder how many Israeli leaders will be misled into thinking the hopes of those who want to hold on to the West Bank forever – and the hopes of those who just want to put off painful compromises as long as possible - now reside in Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and likely contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
During his recent trip to Israel, Huckabee reiterated his belief Israel has no reason to pull out of the West Bank and comments he made to the Jewish Week in 2008 indicating that he supports the idea of a Palestinian state, but not in the the land Israel occupied in 1967.
It's hardly a secret that Israel's current government dislikes and distrusts President Barack Obama, or that the settlers movement and their friends in high places despise him.
So my question: will Israeli hardliners and their friends in the American Jewish community line up behind Huckabee, in the expectation that if he moves to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in 2013 he'll let the Jewish state keep every scrap of land?
If they do, they'll be making a big mistake.
I have no question Huckabee will be less willing to pressure Israel on the settlements issue than Obama – or a succession of Republican presidents, for that matter. Nor will he be as active in pushing for negotiations over a two-state solution.
But U.S. policy aimed at creation of a Palestinian state and an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank – and some kind of negotiated settlement on Jerusalem - is pretty much immutable. No president can reverse that – at least not without catastrophic consequences for U.S. interests around the world.
Think a worldwide upsurge in terrorism here. Think new oil boycotts. Think diplomatic isolation for Washington. Think a huge boost for Iran.
Huckabee may be pandering to the Jewish right or he may genuinely believe that Ramallah is as much a part of Israel as Tel Aviv – but as president, it's wildly unlikely he would act on those positions.
The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler has a nice take on that in today's “Fact Checker” column.
Huckabee's proposal for a Palestinian state somewhere else is “completely unrealistic,” Kessler writes. “If an American president were to formally propose such an idea, it would spark outrage throughout the Muslim world. It might even start a war.”
There's no way the Palestinians, the rest of the Arab and Muslim world or the international community would accept such a proposal. And as Kessler points out, it wouldn't garner much support from a majority of American Jews.
The danger in Huckabee's Middle East views is this: with his relatively strong standing in the polls, he may succeed in convincing Israel's leaders who aren't eager to press forward with land-for-peace talks with the Palestinians, as well as those who insist Israel must hold on to all of the settlements, that if they just stall long enough, they'll be rewarded with a U.S. administration that is sympathetic to a “greater Israel” vision that was supposedly put to rest in Madrid and Oslo.
Ain't gonna happen – unless Huckabee, the Baptist minister, genuinely believes Bible prophecies demanding that Israel be purified by the fires of Armageddon. Raising the hopes of Israel's leaders for a complete reversal of longstanding U.S. policy can only add huge new obstacles to peace efforts in the region and add to the potential for new violence.
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