Mitt Romney’s speech yesterday in Jerusalem focused on easy applause lines for his right-wing audience, including major donors. He was hawkish on Iran, declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, and said the U.S. should not publicly criticize Israel. Completely absent was any mention of the other residents of the Holy Land and its marquee city: Palestinians.
When Romney finally did broach the topic, he raised the ire of Palestinian officials by attributing Israel’s successes to “the power of at least culture and a few other things,” and contrasting Israeli economic gains to those of its Palestinian neighbors. At a fundraising breakfast on Monday morning, Romney said:
[A]s 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. …
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.
In addition to vastly understating the disparity between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories — per capita GDP is actually $31,000 in Israel and $1,500 in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip — Romney incensed Palestinians.
Saeb Erekat, a top official in the Palestinian Authority (PA), the body that has partially governed the occupied territories since the Oslo Accords, blasted Romney’s statement:
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. He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.
While in Israel, Romney didn’t meet with PA President Mahmood Abbas, but he did briefly visit with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Fayyad is well-regarded by Israelis and Americans alike for his attempts at institution building, something that dovetails with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s sometimes faltering plan for “economic peace” with the Palestinians.