JERUSALEM – It would be tough to find a more influential Evangelical supporter of Israel in the United States than Gov. Mike Huckabee.
He has 1.6 million Twitter followers. A popular weekly program on the TBN Christian television network. The ear of President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and many leaders in the House and Senate. And a daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who served as the White House press secretary.
Huckabee’s enthusiastic support of the historic peace deal forged by Israel and the United Arab Emirates -- and he is very enthusiastic -- is, therefore, critically important.
It's a signal to millions of other rank-and-file Evangelicals. Many have not yet paid much attention to the deal. Others are trying to assess whether the agreement really is good for Israel, for America, Christians, and whether it will truly advance regional peace or is some sort of sell-out.
The fact that Huckabee is 100 percent behind the deal is also interesting and important since the Southern Baptist from Arkansas was an early and outspoken supporter of an Israeli plan to “annex” – or, more precisely, apply Israeli sovereignty and law to – certain sections of the biblical heartland known as Judea and Samaria, and more widely known as the West Bank.
That was a move that President Trump, in the end, did not make, opting instead to urge Israel to make peace with the UAE.
Some Evangelical leaders wish Trump had focused first and foremost on expanding Israeli sovereignty. But after careful consideration -- and some initial questions and concerns -- Huckabee says he believes the President got the order right.
In an exclusive, inaugural interview with ALL ISRAEL NEWS – where Huckabee serves as a founding member of our Advisory Board – I asked the former governor to explain his strong support for the peace agreement, and why his concerns have been allayed.
“It’s not just the first one in 25 years, it’s the biggest one since the Israeli-Egyptian Accords that were done 40 years ago,” Huckabee said.
“What we have here is one of the major Gulf States, one of the true powerhouses in the Gulf region, officially recognizing Israel’s right to exist, establishing full diplomatic relationships, opening up to travel directly, tourism, economic participation, security, partnerships,” he noted. “This is huge. This is absolutely astonishing. And I don’t know that that many people in the United States fully appreciate what a significant” development this is.
“I believe [this] will open up the doors for other major Gulf States to join in recognizing Israel,” Huckabee added.
“President Trump should be heralded for this breakthrough and I know he had a great team in place,” he said. “This would not have happened had the president not given the green light to his team to do something incredibly unconventional and to believe in something bigger than what had been attempted before. And I just wish that what I would call the ‘established diplomatic community’ in the United States – the ‘Deep Staters,’ if you will – could step back from their dislike personally of President Trump long enough to give him a standing ovation for this incredible breakthrough.”
While Huckabee’s praise for the peace deal could not have been more enthusiastic, I asked if he thought the price of the deal was too high.
“[Israel’s] prime minister was very passionate, for much of this past summer, with applying sovereignty to large sections of the biblical homeland of Judea and Samaria,” I noted. “Certainly he seemed encouraged by the White House to head down that [road], until the White House seemed to pause him and, if not reverse, then say, ‘Maybe we should look at a Gulf state deal that seems to be ready to be had, instead of applying sovereignty, what people are calling annexation.’ Walk me through how you see it from [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s angle, but also your own, because I know you are a supporter of both – peace deals and sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, or at least sections of it.”
Huckabee conceded that he had reservations about the deal at first.
“The one hesitation I had when I first heard of the [UAE-Israeli] deal was, ‘Does this mean that Israel is being asked to abandon its sovereignty over Judea and Samaria?’” he told me. “And I posed that question directly to Ambassador [David] Friedman, who was a guest on my television show. And I have also posed it to some of the White House officials. Because that would be for me very troubling, for us to impose that upon the Israelis.”
Huckabee noted that “for me, this is not a geopolitical issue. It is a biblical issue. And I think any government would be probably on some shaky ground to say, ‘Oh this is a great political deal,’ [if it went] against recognizing the sovereign borders of Israel as given by God.’ As a Bible-believing person, apart from any of the geopolitical considerations, that would trouble me.”
“However, the thing that the ambassador made very clear was that this was not a permanent stop, this was a pause,” Huckabee said. “It was a delay. It wasn’t that Israel gave up anything. They did not [give up on the idea] that they have the right to the land. Not at all. But they agreed that they are not going to push it or to act upon it while they are in the process of developing these relationships. That gave me comfort. So, it’s not a matter of if, it’s more a matter of when.”
Huckabee then said “there are increasing levels of frustration on the part of Arab states with the Palestinians who can’t take yes for an answer. And there are, I think many times when the Palestinians could have had much more, could have been far more advanced economically, politically, but…they have an ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset.”
“Let’s take away for a moment the biblical aspects, which for me are the most important, but the realities are the political realities,” Huckabee said. “And one thing I have learned in my 30-plus years of politics, if you say, ‘I want all or nothing,’ you’re going to get nothing. It’s just the way things work. And so that’s what I fear will happen. And when that continues to be, Arab states who have a much bigger worldview than just the Palestinians and their grievances are basically saying, ‘You guys walked away’ [from repeated offers for peace] and there’s nothing we can do for you. We’re going to move on.”
Also, over the next few days, we will publish more of my interview with Gov. Huckabee.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.