By Bridget Johnson - 08/17/09 12:31 PM EDT
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee slammed the Obama administration's policy on Israeli settlement growth while touring eastern Jerusalem on Monday.
"My question is how would the government of the United States feel if Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu began to dictate which people could live in the Bronx, which ones could live in Manhattan, and which could live in Queens," Huckabee told reporters, pointedly addressing the White House's demand that Israel halt settlement growth.
"It concerns me when there are some in the United States who would want to tell Israel that it cannot allow people to live in their own country, wherever they want," Huckabee said.
Huckabee said he was "not trying to stand up for the Jewish people but for the freedom of the Israeli people," and stressed the region's significance as a democracy in the Middle East.
“The position that our government has taken recently is far more harsh, even halting peace talks until there is compliance with these demands,” he said in comparing the Obama administration's stance compared with the Bush administration's. “I’m not sure where we would get the authority to demand of the Israelis what they should do in their own country."
The 2008 hopeful for the Republican nomination — and a potential candidate in 2012 — was to be feted Monday night at a reception at a strategic location: the Shepherd Hotel, at the site of a 20-apartment construction project in eastern Jerusalem opposed by the White House.
The private reception is being protested by Peace Now, a nongovernmental organization in Israel that opposes settlement growth and accuses Huckabee of attempting to stir up extremists with his visit. Im Tirtzu, a Zionist student group, is protesting the Peace Now activists.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that an Israeli envoy was to meet with White House officials to talk about settlement growth in advance of an Aug. 26 meeting between Netanyahu and U.S. envoy George Mitchell in London. Reports have indicated Israel may offer to freeze settlement growth for a six-month period.
President Barack Obama and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet at the U.N. General Assembly a month from now.
During his tour, Huckabee was also asked by reporters if he would support an Israeli military strike on Iran.
“I think we can certainly advise as a friend to Israel,” Huckabee said, “but we have no right to dictate and outright tell another country what it should or shouldn’t do. Heck, we don’t do that with North Korea!"