If Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney managed to aggravate the British when he was in London, during his visit to Israel he raised the hackles of the Palestinians by declaring that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and committing himself to moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. As if all that weren’t enough, he also made remarks against Palestinian culture that were interpreted as a racist slur.
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With the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City as a backdrop, Romney stressed that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital during a speech he made on Sunday. Although he did not preface the word “Jerusalem” with the word “united” – the preferred locution of the right – it was enough to earn him words of praise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Not long before his address, Romney did an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, during which he committed himself to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Perhaps that shouldn’t excite anyone too much; several of his predecessors, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, also promised to do this during their campaigns and then promptly stowed the idea somewhere in the White House basement after becoming president.
When asked by Blitzer, Romney said that he viewed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Yes, of course,” he said. “A nation has the capacity to choose its own capital city, and Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”
When Blitzer then asked if he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Romney replied: “I think it’s long been the policy of our country to ultimately have our embassy in the nation’s capital, Jerusalem. The decision to actually make the move is one, if I were president, I would want to take in consultation with the leadership of the government which exists at that time. So I would follow the same policy we have in the past. Our embassy would be in the capital.”
Romney skipped Ramallah and did not meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, nor did he mention the peace process in his speech. Romney made do with a short meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel.
Romney’s people claimed that the candidate’s tight schedule made a meeting with Abbas impossible, but the assumption is that Romney, who was making this visit to help attract Jewish voters, didn’t want to anger his Jewish supporters, most prominent among them Sheldon Adelson, nor did he wish to annoy Netanyahu.
The Palestinians, who were already suspicious of Romney, were furious about his comments on Jerusalem. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called Romney’s remarks about Jerusalem “absolutely unacceptable.”
“I don’t think occupation and aggression [should be] rewarded even during an election campaign,” he said, according to CNN.
But what infuriated the Palestinians even more was a semi-racist remark Romney made during a fundraiser Monday morning in Jerusalem attended by some 40 wealthy American-Jewish supporters.
Romney spoke about the economic differences between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, ignoring the limitations that the occupation puts on Palestinian economic development, saying instead that the reason for the gap was due to cultural differences between Israelis and Palestinians.
“As you come here and you see the GDP [gross domestic product] 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 said.
He then cited the book “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations” and explained what he believed to be author David Landes’ thesis.
“He says if you can learn anything from the economic history of the world, it’s this: culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference. 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,” Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and “the hand of providence.”
Erekat sharply criticized Romney’s remarks, calling them “a racist statement. 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,” Erekat added. “He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.”