The visit of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Israel left many politicians smiling in Israel. But Romney’s unequivocal support for the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as his patently pro-Israeli statements on Jerusalem, left Palestinians across the political spectrum offended and disappointed.
Most aggravating to Palestinians was Romney’s reference to Jerusalem as “the capital of Israel.” Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told AFP Sunday that Romney’s comments on Jerusalem were “harmful to American interests in our region.” On Monday, he told BBC that they were “completely unacceptable.”
“Even if this statement is within the US election campaign, it is unacceptable and we completely reject it. The US election campaign should never be at the expense of the Palestinians,” he said, and added, “Romney is rewarding occupation, settlement and extremism in the region with such declarations.”
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum was less diplomatic. He told Palestinian press Monday that Romney’s statements on Jerusalem were “racist and extremist and denied the Palestinian rights.”
“Romney’s statements on Jerusalem distort the truth, falsify history and misguide public opinion,” Barhoum added. “They provoke the emotions of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims and encourage Judaization [of Jerusalem] and settlement building.”
It was not only Romney’s words that troubled Palestinians, however, but also his visit schedule. He reportedly refused to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, briefly meeting Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Jerusalem instead.
‘Romney … outdid the Israeli apartheid state on many issues,’ wrote Palestinian columnist Adel Abdul Rahman Monday. ‘He went further than Israel on the Iranian issue, on Syria’s chemical weapons and on the political solution [to the Palestinian issue]‘
According to an editorial in establishment Palestinian daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah, Romney’s decision to meet Fayyad alone was an intentional attempt “to stick a wedge in internal Palestinian relations.”
“Romney… outdid the Israeli apartheid state on many issues,” wrote Palestinian columnist Adel Abdul Rahman Monday. “He went further than Israel on the Iranian issue, on Syria’s chemical weapons and on the political solution [to the Palestinian issue].”
Palestinian journalist and political commentator Daoud Kuttab said that Romney’s trip to Israel should be viewed as part of his domestic election campaign rather than a foreign visit.
“His speech was written by AIPAC and by the Christian Zionists,” Kuttab told The Times of Israel. “The trip has nothing to do with the Middle East, the peace process or the war on terror. It is entirely for internal consumption.”
True, Romney made few public statements on Palestinian issues during his Israel visit, but comments made to Jewish donors behind closed doors could be construed as abrasive to Palestinian ears.
‘The trip has nothing to do with the Middle East, the peace process or the war on terror. It is entirely for internal consumption’
During his breakfast fundraiser at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, shortly before leaving the country for Poland, Romney compared the Israeli GDP to that of the Palestinians. He told the audience that “at least culture and a few other things” were to thank for Israel’s relative economic vitality, citing also the innovative business climate and “the hand of providence.”
Erekat blasted those remarks too. ”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,” said Erekat. “It seems to me this man [Romney] 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.”
Kuttab noted, however, that Romney’s position on Israel was not essentially different from that of his Democratic opponent, President Barack Obama. Indeed, the sentiment prevalent in Monday’s Palestinian editorials was that American antipathy towards the Palestinian cause was bipartisan.
According to an editorial in establishment Palestinian daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah, Romney’s decision to meet only Fayyad was an intentional attempt ‘to stick a wedge in internal Palestinian relations’
“Those who follow the statements of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates will find them almost void of any references to the Palestinian issue,” read an editorial in Bethlehem-based news agency Maan Monday. “This indicates, without a doubt, that Arabs have no effect on American policy, contrary to the effect of the Zionist lobby.”
Kuttab noted, however, that many Palestinians were apathetic toward Romney’s visit rather than angry about it.
“We simply don’t have the votes or the money to match the other side,” he said.