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Former presidential candidate and possible vice presidential nominee Mike Huckabee visited Israel as a guest of a right-wing Zionist group that is buying up property to move Jews into Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter in hopes of replacing the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque with a reconstruction of Solomon’s Temple and ushering in the Messianic Age.

According to Haaretz, Mati Dan, founder of the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva–the Jewish equivalent of a theological seminary–jokingly introduced the former Arkansas governor as “Huckabee the Maccabee.” The reference is to a national liberation group that won independence from foreign domination during the period between the Old and New Testaments and their rededication of the Temple that Jews today celebrate at Hanukkah.

Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor and past president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, was in Israel two days as a guest of The Jerusalem Reclamation Project. The New York-based arm of Ateret Cohanim works to acquire property in East Jerusalem and resettle Jews into housing projects in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods. In June Huckabee was keynote speaker at the Jerusalem Reclamation Project/American Friends of Ateret Cohanim dinner celebrating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of modern Israel.

During his 10th visit to Israel in 35 years, according to the Jerusalem Post, Huckabee said, “It is a historic reality that Jerusalem, and the entire land, was originally intended to be a homeland for the Jewish people.”

Huckabee said the Jerusalem Reclamation Project is “going about the process the right way–not of forcibly taking territory but the old fashioned way of purchasing land and having families move in.”

Huckabee underscored his support for an undivided Jewish capital, a point of discussion in a consensus “two-state solution” to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict discussed last year in Annapolis, Md.

“The Palestinians should in fact have a place and opportunity to settle, but it doesn’t have to be in Jerusalem,” Huckabee said.

Huckabee went a step further, saying America should relocate its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. Israel captured East Jerusalem in the Six Day War in 1967 and declared the city its capital. Most countries, including the United States, don’t recognize Jerusalem as the capital and have their embassies in Tel Aviv.

After annexing East Jerusalem, the Israeli government allowed Muslims and Christians access to their holy sites and offered citizenship to Arab residents in Jerusalem’s Old City. No Jews resided in the Muslim Quarter until 1978, when eight young Orthodox Jews established Ateret Cohanim, which means the Priestly Crown.

According to a 1987 article by Robert Friedman, the students came to the Old City to study Bible texts about the coming of the Messiah and rebuilding the Second Temple, which they believed to be right around the corner.

Funded mostly by U.S. donors, including Christian Zionists who believe rebuilding a “Third Temple” will usher in the prophesied Second Coming of Christ, the Jerusalem Reclamation Project now encompasses 43 properties in the Old City, eight families in the newly reclaimed Yemenite village nearby, 46 families on the Mount of Olives, and half a dozen each in the neighborhoods of Abu Tor and Abu Dis.

While there are no laws prohibiting Jews from buying property in Arab East Jerusalem, it is regarded as encroachment by Christian and Muslim residents there. The tension has sparked protests and violence as recently as this spring, when a rabbi at Ateret Cohanim survived after being stabbed in the neck by an unknown assailant while walking near the Damascus Gate in the Old City.

Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of mainline Christian bodies that promotes peaceful resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, supports a shared capital for Israel and the future state of Palestine that would enable international recognition of Israel’s capital in Jerusalem, while giving legitimacy to the new state of Palestine in the eyes of its people and the larger Arab and Muslim world.

Christian Zionists, on the other hand, like San Antonio mega-church pastor John Hagee, believe that God promised the land of Israel to the Jews in the Old Testament and giving any of it away would result in God revoking his blessing.

Huckabee said in Jerusalem that Republican presidential John McCain hasn’t asked him to be his running mate, but he would consider the offer.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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