Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) – The United States should respect Israel’s decision to base its capital in Jerusalem and should move its embassy there accordingly, former Arkansas Gov. and former Republican Party presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said.
“I think our government has been reluctant to act. I think we should recognize that this is the capital that the Israelis have chosen. If that’s their choice then it should be our respect of their government seat to have our embassy here,” Huckabee told journalists in Jerusalem on Monday.
“We would hardly tolerate [it] if the Israelis said, ‘We don’t recognize Washington, D.C., as the nation’s capital. We want to go to Denver.’ I think we’d have a problem with that. We’d say, ‘No our capital is in Washington. If you’re going to have an embassy, that’s where it’s going to be,’” said Huckabee who is here on a private two-day whirlwind tour.
The U.S. (and all international embassies) has its embassy in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv even though Israel considers Jerusalem to be its capital. The U.S. has two consulates in Jerusalem, but Israel is the only nation in the world where the U.S. Embassy is not located in the capital of the host country.
Jerusalem is the prickliest issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel considers the entire city to be its undivided capital forever. Palestinians want the eastern part of the city to become the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The city was divided by barbed wire between Israeli and Jordanian rule from 1948 until the 1967 Six-Day War when it was reunited under Israeli sovereignty. Most embassies left the city after Israel passed a law in 1980 enshrining its de facto rule over the city in law.
In 1995, the U.S. Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act requiring that the U.S. embassy be moved to Jerusalem no later than May 1999. President Clinton and President Bush have both avoided the move by invoking consecutive security waivers every six months.
Huckabee said that he thought Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) would move the embassy to Jerusalem if elected because he’s a “man of his word.”
“I think he [McCain] would certainly be more likely to do it than [Democratic presidential candidate Sen.] Barack Obama [D-Ill.], and I wish he would do it,” Huckabee said.
McCain said in a recent television interview that he would move the embassy “right away.”
Obama thrilled Israelis and American Jews when he appeared to depart from U.S. policy telling a pro-Israel lobby in June that Jerusalem should remain the “undivided” capital of Israel. He backtracked the following day under protest from the Palestinians saying he hadn’t chosen his words wisely.
Both candidates – and U.S. policy – say that the final status of the city should be determined in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Huckabee’s trip – his 10th since first visiting in 1973 – is being sponsored by the Jerusalem Reclamation Project, a group that aims to acquire property in eastern Jerusalem in order to build Jewish neighborhoods.
It included a number of stops in various Jewish sites on Monday that are embedded in Arab areas. They are the kind of places for which the State Department has rebuked Israel for insisting that it has the right to build in them.
Standing on a rocky hillside known as “Kidmat Zion” (East of Zion) Huckabee, got a panoramic view of Jewish and Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem as well as the Golden Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount.
The “eastern” side of the city that Palestinians want for their capital, in many places is a patchwork of Arab and Jewish neighborhoods,
Israel’s security barrier, which divided some eastern Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods, runs along the road to Kidmat Zion, where six Jewish families live.
The 598 dunams (nearly 150 acres) was purchased by Jews between 1924 and1928. The Jerusalem Reclamation Project has received local approval to build up to 300 housing units at the site but still requires government permission to begin construction, a spokesman for the group said.
Huckabee, who made it clear that he was not speaking on behalf of the U.S. government, said he did not believe that Jerusalem should be a divided city and he hoped that the U.S. would not pressure Israel to divide it or to give up land.
“You cannot have a divided Jerusalem and hope that it will one day have the kind of peace that I think everybody would want for it,” Huckabee said.
He said an “undivided Jerusalem” meant one with a single government where people from different cultures and faiths live together.
“I don’t think you can have walls and barbed wire and call that an undivided city. That’s not undivided. That’s very divided, and it’s unrealistic to suggest that there can be that kind of situation,” Huckabee said.