Palestinians Way Under The Radar During Romney’s Israel Visit (JEWISH PRESS) By: Ben Sales JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 08/01/12)
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JERUSALEM – Mitt Romney’s policy speech in Israel covered plenty of
bases: The presumptive Republican presidential candidate spoke about
the status of Jerusalem, the threat of a nuclear Iran, the “tumult”
of the Arab Spring and the “enduring shared values” that bedrock the
But there was one topic that gained little attention: Israel’s
conflict with the Palestinians. The word “Palestinian” did not appear
once in the speech on Sunday evening.
Aside from a short meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister
Salam Fayyad, the status of the Palestinians was basically absent
from Romney’s swing through Israel on Sunday and Monday. He did not
meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has led
the most recent rounds of Israeli-Palestinian talks, and he mentioned
support for a two-state solution only briefly at the end of a
statement with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Romney’s campaign also canceled a meeting with Labor Party leader
Shelly Yachimovich a few hours in advance. Labor traditionally has
been more supportive of negotiations with the Palestinians than the
ruling Likud Party.
During the primary campaign, Romney joined his fellow GOP candidates
in slamming the Obama administration’s public criticism of Israeli
settlement policy. But he also criticized Newt Gingrich’s assertion
that the Palestinians were an “invented” people, suggesting that such
talk was a “mistake” and “incendiary.”
President Obama’s Israel policy during his first two years focused on
an aggressive push for Israeli-Palestinian talks, along with a demand
that Israel freeze all settlement construction in the West Bank.
Subsequent negotiations stalled, and the demand for a freeze created
significant tension between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
“The Palestinians were the main issue” for Obama, said Shmuel
Sandler, a researcher at Israel’s Begin-Sadat Center. Romney, by
contrast, “put the emphasis on Iran and Jerusalem. This was a way of
differentiating himself from Obama.”
Sandler said that Romney, if elected, would follow four consecutive
presidents, of both parties, who led major drives for Israeli-
Shlomo Brom, a senior research associate at the Israeli Institute for
National Security Studies, suggested that despite Romney’s near
silence on the Palestinians, he may still follow suit.
“The way people act in elections doesn’t predict what will be
afterwards,” Brom said. “Romney doesn’t have a constituency in the
United States that’s interested in the subject of the Palestinians.”
But with peace negotiations moribund for nearly two years, Brom said
that Romney’s emphasizing the threat of a nuclear Iran and the Arab
Spring also accords with what many Israelis see as the two most
important issues facing the region.
On Sunday, Romney adviser Dan Senor said that a Romney administration
would back a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Though Romney and his aides subsequently appeared to step back from
such an outright endorsement of Israeli military action, the
Republican candidate did say that Israel has the “right to defend
itself” and called denying Iran nuclear weapons “our highest national
Romney also called on Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi of the
Muslim Brotherhood, to keep Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and
admonished Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom he called “no friend
to Israel and no friend to America,” for killing his own citizens.
Sandler added that most Israelis at this point “realize that there’s
not going to be a peace soon.” He attributed that realization to
fundamental gaps between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the
status of Palestinian refugees, the fate of Israeli settlement blocs
close to the West Bank border and whether eastern Jerusalem will be
under Israeli or Palestinian sovereignty.
While Romney mostly kept away from the Palestinian issue in public,
in private it did come up. During his Sunday speech at a closed
fundraiser, he reportedly credited Israel’s GDP being much higher
than that of the Palestinians to “the power of at least culture and a
few other things,” including a strong pro-business climate, the
travails of overcoming Jewish history’s blows and the “hand of
Saeb Erakat, a senior aide to Abbas, pounced on the comments.
“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,” he said, according to The Associated Press.
Erekat also said it was “absolutely unacceptable” when Romney called
Jerusalem “the capital of Israel.” (JTA)
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