Republican Mike Huckabee, who sought his party's presidential nomination last year but lost to John McCain, said Monday that the U.S. has taken too harsh a stance against Israel on the issue of settlements.
The U.S. should not "be telling Jewish people in Israel where they should and should not live," Huckabee said while visiting Jewish enclaves in East Jerusalem.
The U.S. administration is pressuring Israel to stop building settlements on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state, including East Jerusalem. Israel, meanwhile, says East Jerusalem will remain part of its capital and insists some settlement construction must continue.
Huckabee scheduled to attend a gala dinner at the controversial Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem on Monday night.
The former Arkansas governor, who arrived in Israel Sunday as the guest of several rightist organizations, will be joined at the hotel dinner by over a hundred guests, including prominent Jewish and Republican activists from the United States.
The Obama administration has objected to Israeli plans for construction at the hotel, located in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood.
Huckabee, considered to be on the right flank of his party and seen as an early front-runner to win the party's presidential nomination in 2012, is openly critical of U.S. President Barack Obama's policy toward Israel, including the demand for a freeze on Jewish construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Obama has pressed Israel to halt settlement activity as part of a bid to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The U.S. has demanded that the hotel project be halted, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting in July that "Israel will not agree to edicts of this kind in East Jerusalem."
The Shepherd Hotel was purchased by American Jewish tycoon Irving Moskowitz in 1985 for $1 million. Moskowitz, an influential supporter of Ateret Cohanim and heightened Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem, plans to tear down the hotel and build housing units for Jewish Israelis in its place.
Huckabee is also planning to visit the Jewish section of Hebron, Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and Ma'aleh Adumim, the largest settlement in the West Bank.
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