WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney has privately told donors that if elected president he will not work for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — the official policy of the last three U.S. presidents, and one that Romney has publicly endorsed — because the Palestinians don’t want peace, according to a leaked video.
The secretly recorded video, which was posted online Tuesday by the liberal Mother Jones magazine, showed the Republican presidential nominee telling several dozen supporters at a May 17 fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla., that a Romney administration would attempt to “sort of live with” the conflict.
“I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, ‘There’s just no way,’” Romney told the supporters, who reportedly paid $50,000 each to attend.
“And so what you do is you say, ‘You move things along the best way you can.’ You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem.”
Recent U.S. presidents, including George W. Bush, have sought to distinguish between moderate and extremist Palestinians, and argued that Washington should support moderates willing to work with Israel. But Romney made no such distinction in his comments.
Romney’s private views on the long-stalled peace process are not likely to cause as much of a headache for his campaign as his comments at the same event that 47% of Americans prefer government handouts to supporting themselves, analysts said.
Romney’s perspective is similar to that of many Israelis, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and of many conservative foreign policy experts in the United States.
Opinion polls show a majority of Israelis and Palestinians say they favor peace through creation of an independent Palestinian state, but they don’t believe the other side will make necessary sacrifices and don’t expect a deal any time soon.
In public remarks, Romney has embraced a two-state solution. In July, on the eve of Romney’s visit to Israel, he reiterated his support in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
“I believe in a two-state solution, which suggests there will be two states, including a Jewish state. I respect Israel’s right to remain a Jewish state,” he said. “The question is not whether the people of the region believe that there should be a Palestinian state. The question is if they believe there should be an Israeli state, a Jewish state.”
Andrea Saul, spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, denied Tuesday that Romney was changing his position in private.
“Gov. Romney believes that the path to a two-state solution is to ensure the security of Israel, and not to throw up any more barriers to the two sides engaging in direct negotiations,” she said in a statement.
At the fundraiser, Romney told the crowd that he was “torn” over the issue. He said he had concluded “that the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.”
If a Palestinian state was established, he said, Israel would have to guard its borders and airports to prevent Iran and perhaps others from trying to smuggle in missiles and other weapons that could threaten Israeli security, a situation neither side would accept.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said Tuesday that “it is simply the wrong approach to say, ‘We can’t do anything about it, so we’ll just kick it down the field.’ That’s not leadership. That’s the opposite of leadership.”
President Obama, after a bruising failure at Mideast peacemaking early in his term, has not recently invested much effort into reviving a peace process. But many Mideast experts believe Obama is personally committed to try to make progress, and would probably renew his efforts if reelected.
Times staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.