Just eight weeks before the American presidential elections, Palestinians are furious over comments by Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The private remarks were made in May to wealthy donors but released only now.
Palestinians are “committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel,” Romney said, adding that prospects for a two-state solution of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel were dim.
“You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this going to remain an unsolved problem, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that, ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”
According to Mother Jones magazine, which posted the video clip of Romney’s comments on its website, the former Massachusetts governor made the remarks at a $50,000-per-plate fundraiser at Boca Raton, Florida. Boca Raton has a wealthy Jewish community, although it was not clear how many Jews were at the Romney fundraiser.
“It’s political illiteracy – has he even ever read a book about Palestine?” Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the president of the PASSIA think tank in east Jerusalem fumed to The Media Line. “On one level Palestinians are laughing at this, but on another level it will be very serious if this man has any say in our future.”
The comments come as the latest polls show a close race between Romney and President Obama. Although American Jews account for only two percent of the population, they represent significant voting blocs in important swing states like Florida. Polls show that more than two-thirds of Jews who plan to vote will cast their ballot for President Obama, although many believe he is not as supportive of Israel as were some of his predecessors.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, the putative seat of Palestinian government, Palestinians reacted angrily to Romney’s comments.
“He’s buying votes,” 27-year old Morad Al-Siory told The Media Line. “How can you judge Palestine if you haven’t seen both sides? I’m right here and I see it with my own eyes.”
Al-Siory said he had come to Ramallah to visit his family. His father, Mohammed, who owns a falafel stand, agreed with his son’s comments.
“How can you swim if you don’t get wet?” he asked. “I’d love to see American policy in the Middle East change.”
He also said, however, that he was frustrated with President Obama’s policy and that there was only a slight chance that he might do something different than Romney if re-elected.
“In the last four years he’s done nothing” Al-Siory said. “He fooled the Arabs and the Muslims with his speech in Cairo.”
He was referring to the speech that President Obama made in Egypt soon after taking office in which he called for “a new beginning” in relations between the US and the Arab world. It was seen at the time as an effort to reach out to the Arab world.
Palestinian officials also responded angrily to Romney’s comments.
“No one stands to gain more from peace with Israel than Palestinians and no one stands to lose more in the absence of peace than Palestinians,” chief negotiator Sa’ib Ariqat told the Reuters news agency. “Only those who want to maintain the Israeli occupation will claim the Palestinians are not interested in peace.”
But other Palestinian analysts said the statements had to be seen in context -- as part of the election campaign, where Jewish donors and voters play an important role.
“Palestinians have learned through experience not to take statements made during election campaigns seriously,” Ghassan Al-Khatib, a professor of contemporary Arab studies at Bir Zeit University told The Media Line. “When you compare what we hear during the campaign and what presidents do in the future, you don’t see the connections.”
At the same time, Khatib said the statements further reinforced previous Palestinian attitudes toward the Republican candidate, who is perceived to have little foreign policy experience.
“This is not a surprise for the Palestinians,” Khatib said. “The impression is that Romney has been extraordinarily hostile and negative towards Palestinians all along.”