Romney reiterates stance on ‘culture’; Palestinians still furious

After a week abroad, Mitt Romney is back on American soil and has resumed his campaign schedule. But he wanted to clarify a remark that landed him in hot water with Palestinians on Monday.

He published an essay in the National Review Online on Tuesday, the day he flew home to Boston, defending himself against a controversy arising from remarks he made in Israel that infuriated Palestinians.

In the essay, “Culture Does Matter,” Romney reiterated some salient points of his speech to supporters at a fundraiser in Jerusalem.


“During my recent trip to Israel,” wrote the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, “I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it. In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy. But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?”

Romney did not elaborate on which aspects of Palestinian culture he blames for the chasm between the per capita income of the two peoples, but he did, once again, raise the ire of Palestinians who believe that Israel’s economic success and the West Bank’s economic struggles are not caused by cultural differences, but by Israel’s military occupation of the territory.

“The Israeli occupation and restrictions are responsible for the economic difficulties facing the Palestinians,” Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib said Wednesday in Ramallah. “This is not only the assessment of Palestinians, but also the conclusions of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and all international organizations.”

(The World Bank and IMF have agreed that while the Palestinian economy is not strong enough to support a state, its greatest impediment is restrictions imposed by Israel that hamper investment by creating uncertainty and risk, according to the Associated Press.)

Khatib added: “Israel is profiting from the occupation of our land and we, in return, are not able to benefit from our own resources to develop our economy. And not only that, the Israeli restrictions on movement and trade through its control over the borders and the checkpoints also hamper our economic growth.

“All he had to do was read the many reports by the international organizations and he would have easily realized that Israel exploits the economy of the Palestinian territories for the benefit of its own economy while causing the deterioration in our own economy. It is as simple as that.”

Israel has maintained that its restrictions on Palestinians are based on security concerns.

As Romney may have discovered, the complex situation does not always lend itself to campaign-trail sound bites.

Still, Romney sacrifices little politically by praising Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. His intended audience, after all, comprises two important domestic political constituencies, conservative American Jews and evangelical Christians. Palestinian statehood does not rank as a pressing concern for these groups, which also appreciate Romney’s hard-line stance against Iran, Israel’s most potent adversary.

Should Romney win the presidency, however, he may have a diplomatic dilemma on his hands. But he will cross that checkpoint when he gets there.

Abukhater reported from Ramallah, Abcarian from Los Angeles.

Twitter: @robinabcarian