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Special from Ir Amim's Danny Seidemann on Huckabee, the Settlers, and Jerusalem

Today, Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann, of the Israeli NGO Ir Amim, circulated his observations on Mike Huckabee's East Jerusalem adventure (or better yet, adventurism) and what it says about Jerusalem and President Obama's peace efforts.  Read the full analysis after the jump...

Huckabee and the Settlers - Targeting President Obama, Jerusalem, and Peace
by Daniel Seidemann

In May 1998, I got word that Newt Gingrich was coming to town and there was a troubling event on his schedule: a virtual groundbreaking ceremony for the US Embassy in Jerusalem. At the time, the Israeli-Palestinian relations were in dire enough straits without this provocation. I reached out to every contact I had in Washington to impress upon them how important it was that this event not happen and to try to convince them to act.

And act they did. After reportedly being approached by the White House, Gingrich cancelled the event, quietly citing the primacy of the Executive branch in the conduct of American foreign policy. He "compensated" his Israeli hosts by letting then Mayor Olmert take him on a high-exposure tour of Jerusalem. As the entourage barreled down the Hebron road, on the way back from the then-pastoral hill called Har Homa, the bus took an unscheduled turn into the Allenby compound, where, at the site of the planned US Embassy, tens of reporters and photographers lay in ambush for Newt Gingrich.

The surprised Gingrich reportedly went ballistic, insisting that Olmert turn back immediately.  Left no choice, Olmert turned the entourage around, leaving a hoard of frustrated journalists in its wake.

Whatever else I may have thought of Gingrich, his Jerusalem sortie made an indelible impression on me: someone who respects the Constitution that much cannot be all bad.

Which brings us to the present.  Tonight, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee will attend a dinner at the Shepherd's Hotel in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.  This is the site of the newly approved messianic Jewish settlement. It is the place where Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to pick a fight with the President of the United States over the latter's insistence on a settlement freeze.

It is also the place where Huckabee has decided to openly side with an Israeli Prime Minister in challenging the policies of his own president.  For Huckabee, a once and perhaps future candidate for US president, extremist evangelical ideology apparently trumps patriotism.  (And it is worth noting that Huckabee was the keynote speaker at a summer 1998 fundraising dinner for the Jerusalem Reclamation Project/American Friends of Ateret Cohanim in New York - the same group whose non-profit tax status is challenged in today's Israeli press). 

Under normal circumstances, this would be no more than an episodic illumination of the decay that has been spreading in American political discourse, and the way certain elements of the political right in the United States, from health care town meetings to Sheikh Jarrah, are abandoning constitutional civility.

But more is at play here.

President Obama has made the creation of a non-hemorrhaging interface between the United States and the Arab world and Muslim worlds a cornerstone of his foreign policy. In doing so, he has not abandoned the deep alliance with Israel, but added to that historic commitment a sober, resolute effort to bring a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Israel and the Arab States.

The success of this ambitious endeavor depends very much on the events at the volcanic core of that conflict, Jerusalem. If the stakeholders do not pay reverence to the religious and national complexities of Jerusalem and its holy sites, President Obama's efforts will be stillborn. And unless a political agreement ensues that guarantees that no one in Jerusalem - Israeli or Palestinian, Jew, Christian or Muslim - need struggle to maintain or her individual or collective identity in the city, there will be no resolution of this conflict.

So it is no accident that Jerusalem has emerged in recent weeks as the arena of choice for many who seek to undermine President Obama's global agenda. Elements in the evangelical Christian Zionist right, who often make Israel's messianic settlers appear meek by comparison, aspire to turn Jerusalem into an Armageddon theme park. Settlement activities around Jerusalem's Old City are being manipulated by Prime Minister Netanyahu, without leaving fingerprints, as a proxy war geared to derail the President's efforts to kick-start substantive political negotiations. The unholy alliance between Jewish and Christian religious extremists in creating an ersatz, biblical end-of-days hegemony in and around the Old City is wind in the sails of the sundry Jihadists seeking to rid the Islamic holy terrain of the taint of Jewish and Christian crusaders.

Let there be no doubt: recent events in Jerusalem cut against the web and weave of every fiber of President Obama's Cairo address. And that is precisely what they are supposed to do.

So we may chuckle at the sight of a Fox News talk show host with a great political future behind him posing for a photo-op at the Shepherd's Hotel, but this should not be allowed to distract us. The stakes for Israel today could not be higher. The displacement of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem cannot be justified even to Israel's staunchest allies. Recent actions in Jerusalem are leading Israel to an inexorable slide into pariah status, abandoned by all its supporters, save Mike Huckabee and his flock, who like their Jewish counterparts place their own extremist ideology over their own patriotism and the real interests of Israel.

The way these events will be handled will determine much about the success or failure of President Obama's foreign policy, the cultural and political integrity of Jerusalem, and the future of the Jewish state itself.  In critically engaging the Israeli government regarding its policies in East Jerusalem, President Obama has the chance to make a seminal contribution to Israel, creating circumstances where Jerusalem becomes the arena where Israel attains the universal legitimacy to which it aspires, the crowning achievement of the Zionist enterprise.

(A full-size map of the Sheikh Jarrah area can be viewed/downloaded here.)