Demonstrating his utter lack of diplomatic skills, Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee for president, angered Palestinians with his comments about their economy and his pledge to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Saying, “As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” Romney told the 40 invited donors that Israeli culture set them apart from the Palestinians.
“What is this man doing here?” Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told the Associated Press about Romney, adding, “It’s Israeli occupiers and Palestinians under occupation, and that’s why Palestinians cannot realize their potential.” Abbas added, “It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation. It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people,” adding further, “He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.”
It is notable too that Romney’s remarks on the economic disparity between the Israelis and the Palestinians were inaccurate. According to the World Bank, Israel’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) was $31,000 in 2011, while the West Bank and Gaza had a per capita GDP of just over $1,500.
Seated next to billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson at the head of the table, Romney attributed his understanding of the differences to having read books and to his business experience, saying, “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” including an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances, and the “hand of providence.”
When comparing the Israeli and Palestinian economies, Romney made no mention of Israeli control over the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem since occupying them after the 1967 war. While Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, it continues to control access, and has enforced a crippling border blockade since the Islamic militant Hamas seized the territory in 2007, and Palestinians only have limited self-rule.
Repeated statements from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have stated that the Palestinian economy can only grow if Israel lifts those restrictions.
When he first arrived in Israel on Sunday, Romney’s first remarks, declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of the Jewish state and saying the United States has promised never to “look away from our passion and commitment to Israel,”
he crossed a diplomatic tipping point on the contested issue in peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, each of which claim the city as their own.
While he did not meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas or visit the West Bank, Romney met briefly with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
The Romney campaign billed his international tour, which began in England last week, intended to improve his foreign policy experience through a series of meetings with foreign leaders, and demonstrate his confidence on the world stage. His remarks while in Israel were however crafted for their appeal to evangelical voters at home, and garner support among Jewish voters and donors who favor President Obama 68-25 over Romney.
Having offended the British with his comments on their preparations for the Olympic games, his remarks now assure Palestinians they will not be dealing with an unbiased broker in any future peace talks should he be elected. Perhaps demonstrating the real nature of American exceptionalism, perception of the US as the 600 pound gorilla in the living room, through his remarks, he has as clearly established his unsuitability for the office of president in international affairs as his economic plans, policies and perception of him as being out of touch with everyday Americans have during the campaign.