JERUSALEM — Potential 2012 U.S. presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told Jewish settlers Monday that attempts to prevent them from building in east Jerusalem are as outrageous as housing discrimination in the United States.
"I cannot imagine, as an American, being told I could not live in certain places in America because I was Christian, or because I was white, or because I spoke English," he said.
Huckabee dismissed the notion that Jewish settlements on land the Palestinians want for a future state are obstacles to peace. Instead, he backed the settlers' view that they have the right to build anywhere in "the place that God gave them."
Most of the international community — including President Barack Obama — considers the settlements illegal because they are built on occupied land. Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and a serious contender for president in 2008, is expected to seek the Republican nomination to run against Obama in 2012.
An evangelical minister and Fox News host, Huckabee makes frequent trips to Israel to voice support for Jewish development throughout the biblical Land of Israel. On his last trip in August 2009, he rebuffed Washington by opposing a Palestinian state.
Huckabee spoke Monday at the dedication of a new Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as the capital of a future independent state, but Huckabee referred to the area as part of Israel's "eternal capital." He also met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of Israel's parliament.
The Jerusalem Reclamation Project, a group that promotes settlements in an attempt to bolster a Jewish presence in mostly Arab areas, hosted Huckabee and actor Jon Voight on the first day of their three-day visit.
Huckabee visited the Shepherd Hotel, the former residence of the mufti of Jerusalem that was destroyed in early January to make way for Jewish homes. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had rebuked Israel for knocking down the hotel — a position Huckabee brushed off.
"I think we ought to be more concerned about Iran building bombs than Israelis building bedrooms," Huckabee said.