Romney comments irk Palestinians

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GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney told donors at a Jerusalem fundraiser Monday that Jewish culture is one reason that Israel’s economy has been more successful than the Palestinians’, remarks that Palestinian leaders denounced as offensive.

“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, seated next to Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, told some 40 donors at a $50,000 per person breakfast fundraiser at the King David Hotel Monday, the Associated Press reported:

“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,” he continued.

The remarks “not only offend Palestinians,” but are reminiscent of the stereotype that Jews are good with money, veteran US Middle East trouble shooter Aaron David Miller told Al Monitor Monday, adding: “Mitt Romney is no anti-Semite, he’s just not thinking before he talks.”

Palestinian leaders said the remarks were both uninformed and offensive.

“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,” Saeb Erekat, a senior advisor to Palestinian President Abbas, told the Associated Press.

“It seems to me this man (Romney) 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.”

Romney, on his two-day trip to Israel, evinced little interest in advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace. He declined to endorse the two-state solution–a long standing goal of US foreign policy going back 20 years. He also called Jerusalem the capital of Israel, but later equivocated on when the United States should move its embassy there from Tel Aviv. The matter is sensitive for Palestinians who consider East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

“It’s long been the policy of our country to ultimately have our embassy in the nation’s capital, Jerusalem,” Romney told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Sunday. But 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 (Israeli) government which exists at that time,” he said, Reuters reported. “So I would follow the same policy we have in the past.”

Similarly, a top Romney aide, Dan Senor, first told.reporters Sunday that Romney would “respect” an Israeli decision to carry out unilateral strikes on Iran. But Romney and Senor later walked back the remarks, saying the former Massachusetts governor supports the current diplomacy and economic sanctions track, but recognizes Israel’s right to self defense.

“I recognize the right of Israel to defend itself,” Romney said in an interview with ABC Sunday. “At the same time as two nations we are both committed to employing every means we have to keep Iran from pursuing nuclear following.”

Romney traveled on to Gdansk, Poland Monday, the last stop on his three-nation foreign trip.

Meantime, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrives in Israel on Tuesday.

On Friday, President Obama signed a $70 million US military aid package for Israel.

(Photo: U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney meets members of the audience after delivering foreign policy remarks at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem, July 29, 2012.   REUTERS/Jason Reed.)