Huckabee visits West Bank: 'Build Israel Great Again'

Maale Adumim, West Bank (CNN)Standing in front of a bright red banner reading "Build Israel Great Again," former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee promised Tuesday during an appearance in the West Bank that President-elect Donald Trump's policies toward Israel would be very different than President Barack Obama's.

Huckabee was in Maale Adumim to lay the cornerstone for a new neighborhood in one of the largest Israeli settlements in the West Bank, just east of Jerusalem. The former Arkansas governor and strong supporter of Israel held a hat with the same catchphrase, and said he would bring one to Trump, whose campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" was the inspiration for the Maale Adumim banner.
Huckabee told CNN that he rejected the use of the word "settlements."
"I think Israel has title deed to Judea and Samaria," said Huckabee, using the Biblical terms for the West Bank. "There are certain words I refuse to use. There is no such thing as a West Bank. It's Judea and Samaria. There's no such thing as a settlement. They're communities, they're neighborhoods, they're cities. There's no such thing as an occupation."
Settlements have surged back onto the international agenda following the recent United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as having "no legal validity" and being "a flagrant violation under international law."
Days later, Secretary of State John Kerry addressed settlements in a speech as an obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Huckabee slammed Kerry's remarks, calling them "irrational" and "absolute bull butter."
"It was insulting to me as an American, and I think certainly insulting to Israelis as well," he said.
In the waning days of the Obama administration, the Kerry speech and the Security Council resolution have heightened interest in Trump's policies in the region.
The President-elected has said he'd like to try making peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but he's also said he wants to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moves Palestinian leaders have denounced as the death of a two-state solution.
Though he does not serve as an adviser to Trump and is not part of his incoming administration, Huckabee, speaking as a private citizen, said he was optimistic about the relationship between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"I think they're going to get along terrifically well. Because they're both plain-spoken people. They're both natural leaders. I think it's going to be a terrific relationship," said Huckabee, who added that he met with Netanyahu on his visit but declined to reveal what they discussed.
Huckabee visited the settlements on the same day that Senate Republicans introduced a bill to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the embassy to Jerusalem.
Called the "Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act," the bill requires the United States to act on a 1995 bill calling on the US to relocate the diplomatic mission. Since the bill's passage, every president -- both Republican and Democrat -- has waived the requirement of the move, citing national security considerations.
The bill was introduced Tuesday by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
"The only people who have ever had Yerushalayim as a capital have been the Jews," said Huckabee, using the Hebrew name of the city. "Nobody else has ever made this city a capital, ever. So it shouldn't even be controversial. Now it will be, but it shouldn't be."
An evangelical Christian, Huckabee is a frequent visitor to the settlements. Last summer, he visited Shiloh, a settlement north of Jerusalem in the West Bank, that is the Biblical site where the Ark of the Covenant rested before it was carried into Jerusalem.
Responding to Huckabee's visit to Maale Adumim on Tuesday, PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said, "The expansion of the illegal settlement of Maale Adumim threatens to forcibly transfer more Palestinians in (East Jerusalem) to make a way for more Israeli settlements and settlers in Occupied Palestine.
"This is an attack against the international community's will to achieve a just, lasting, comprehensive peace and an incentive for extremists to perpetuate conflict and blood in our region," Erekat added.