EFRAT, Israel – The Trump White House is currently working on its Middle East peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians. So when former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a Trump ally, showed up this week to celebrate a Jewish building project in Judea (aka the West Bank), quite a few people took notice.
Gov. Huckabee at the dedication ceremony, Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
Huckabee was invited to tour cities and sites throughout the West Bank by the regional councils for Judea and Samaria and the National Council of Young Israel. The Trump administration has not clearly announced its policy on Jewish building in Judea and Samaria, which was fiercely opposed under President Obama. On Wednesday Huckabee took part in a building ceremony in Efrat, where 900 new homes for Jewish residents are under construction.
Efrat in Gush Etzion, Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
As he looked around the site, Huckabee joked to a round of applause, "Yeah, I'm building because you know, one day I may want to purchase a holiday home."
To much of the world, the Jewish neighborhood under construction in Efrat is just another West Bank "settlement" and a target for boycott. But for the thousands of Jews who live here, it's the heart of Judea and very much a part of biblical Israel.
New homes under construction in Efrat, Gush Etzion, Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
As he put down mortar on one of the home's foundation, Huckabee made the case that what's being built in Judea is really a "bridge for peace."
Building in Judea a "bridge for peace," Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
"Every day, 1,300 Palestinian workers come to job sites here, the governor explained. "They earn more money for their families, and they don't just earn pocket change. They earn significantly better money than they would anywhere else."
From the hilltops of Efrat one can easily see Jerusalem, just 13 miles away. One can also see the predominantly Arab city of Hebron, a hotbed of Arab resistance to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and the place where the Jewish patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried.
Israeli soldiers guard the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Machpelah) in Hebron, CBN News, Photo, CBN News
During Huckabee's visit, Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi thanked him and President Trump for their support of Israel. The mayor described how Jews and Arabs work together, shop together in the grocery store and even get medical care in his city, all despite the opposition of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
"One visit here tells you the essence of the Jewish people, the essence of Jewish history, the essence of the importance of the Jewish people building their lives here," Revivi said.
Before Huckabee left Efrat, a reporter asked him how his faith shaped his views on the West Bank, the land promised to Israel in the Bible.
Mike Huckabee, Photo, AP
"I'm a Christian, so I'm not a Jew," Huckabee said. But I also believe that if those promises which were made to the Jewish people are no longer valid, then why would I believe any promise that I would believe God would make to me would be valid?"
On several occasions the governor said he was speaking personally and not on behalf of the Trump administration. But the Israelis who escorted him and former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci (who was along on part of the tour) hope to help persuade the president that the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are a great help to lasting peace rather than a hindrance.