JERUSALEM (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee on Wednesday vowed to abandon key American policies in the Mideast if he is elected next year, endorsing positions that would put the U.S. at odds with its closest allies.
Huckabee said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday that he considers the West Bank to be part of Israel and spoke against the establishment of a Palestinian state. He also said he would withdraw from the recent U.S.-led international nuclear agreement with Iran.
Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, is among 17 Republicans seeking the party's nomination. A one-time Baptist pastor, he draws support from conservative Christians, and he is a frequent visitor to Israel.
Huckabee arrived in Israel on Tuesday and held a campaign fundraiser in "ancient" Shilo — a spot in the West Bank where tradition holds the ancient Israelites kept the tabernacle with Moses' tablets on its way to Jerusalem. Referring to the West Bank by the biblical names Judea and Samaria, he told supporters that he considered the entire area to be part of Israel.
In the interview, Huckabee said recognizing the West Bank as Israeli would be the "formal position" of his administration.
"I feel that we have a responsibility to respect that this is land that has historically belonged to the Jews," he said.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war. While it has settled more than 350,000 Jews in the territory, it has never annexed the area in large part due to widespread international opposition.
The Palestinians claim the West Bank as well as east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — territories also captured in 1967 — for a future state.
The U.S., along with most of the international community, has supported the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines as the cornerstone of a peace agreement. Even Israel's hard-line prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has endorsed the "two-state solution," though he rejects a return to Israel's pre-1967 lines.
Speaking to reporters, Huckabee said he has "never" supported a two-state solution that would require settlers to be uprooted.
"I think the notion of two governments operating on the same piece of real estate is unrealistic and unworkable," he said.
He gave no plan for what should be done with millions of Palestinians living under Israeli rule, saying only this should be the subject of future negotiations between the sides. But he said the Palestinians need to endorse Israel's right to exist and clearly renounce violence.
"There's got to be some kind of prerequisites before any other type of discussion takes place," Huckabee said.
Huckabee also said he would withdraw from the recent U.S.-led international nuclear agreement with Iran, which offers the Islamic Republic relief from international sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
He said Iran could not be trusted and that sanctions should remain in place until Iran dismantles its nuclear program, recognizes Israel's right to exist and halts calls for America's destruction. He also called on the U.S. to become a major energy exporter and take over Iran's traditional oil markets.
The Republican-led U.S. Congress is reviewing the deal and expected to vote against it, after which President Barack Obama is expected to issue a veto. This week, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, grudgingly acknowledged that he does not expect sufficient support to override the veto.
Huckabee expressed disappointment, saying he would "never want to predict the demise of something that you really believe in." He said he expected Republicans to work hard at defeating the treaty.
Huckabee also defended controversial comments about the deal, in which he said it was "marching the Israelis to the door of the oven." The comparisons to the Holocaust drew criticism in Israel and from many American Jewish groups.
Huckabee said he has been inundated with support for his words, including from Holocaust survivors. He said he only meant to draw attention to past Iranian references to the Holocaust and the destruction of Israel. "I didn't create the language. I borrowed their language," he said.
Opinion polls show Huckabee in the middle of the pack, though far behind front-runner Donald Trump.
Huckabee refused to discuss Trump's candidacy and bristled at repeated questions about the candidate. "There's only one candidate in this race that I'm focused on, and that would be me," he said.