As a non-Romney fan, it’s been good to have a few laughs at the candidate’s slip-ups in the past week on his foreign policy tour. It’s been fun watching the retorts fly from the mayors of London and Salt Lake City. But his comments yesterday in Israel made the whole trip seem much less amusing, specifically this one:
"As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, 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…" [Note: it’s actually about $31,000 to $1,500]
Romney said some economic historians have theorized that "culture makes all the difference."
"‘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 said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the ‘hand of providence.’"
That is seriously wrong. A senior aide to the Palestinian president pointed out why:
"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."
Unfortunately, looking at U.S. policies towards Israel for the past 64 years, I’m not sure that many people fully grasp this situation. The past 10 years have almost certainly made things worse, with a sizable dose of Islamophobia hitting the U.S. after 9/11.
So here’s a small history for those who think Palestinians are just bad with money.
Here’s a map of the territory over time (Palestine in yellow):
The conflict has been violent for well over 100 years, with the first recorded violence between Arabs and Jews occurring in 1882 when a Jewish guard accidentally shot and killed an Arab man. Since then, the conflict has become a bit more escalated. Estimating the total casualties since Israel’s founding is difficult, but the estimates since 1987 put the death toll around 8,000 Palestinians and 1,500 Israelis.
More recently the discrepancy has become even greater, likely due to the fact the Israel receives around $8 million a day in U.S. funding. In the 2008-09 Gaza War, 1,417 Palestinians were killed (926 civilians), compared to a grand total of 13 Israelis (3 civilians), 4 of which were from friendly fire.
This is certainly not to say that Palestinians are right to be killing Israelis any more than Israelis killing Palestinians. Both sides have committed atrocious violence, frequently against civilians. However, in recent years Israel has been severely aggravating said violence, sometimes on the level of massacre.
One of the leading causes of this violence has been the constant encroachment of Israeli settlers on Palestinian territory, in clear violation of just about every international agreement ever made. Palestinians frequently see their homes bulldozed to make way for Israeli construction in areas that are not—and have never been — legally theirs. An estimated 160,000 Palestinians are now internally displaced because of these activities. This shows West Bank land occupied by Israel, which no country, including the U.S., recognizes as part of Israel:
There is also the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. In recent years the Israelis have eased non-military goods restrictions, but at various points they have stopped virtually everything going in our out of the Strip. Now humanitarian organizations can at least get limited supplies into the region. The U.S. has maintained official support for this blockade, despite the fact that everyone else (UN, EU, etc.; literally everyone) sees it as in violation of international law.
But that seems to be life in Israel: another day, another breach of numerous international laws.
It’s hard to understand why exactly the U.S. continues to give unrelenting support to Israel in the form of billions of dollars of military aid despite the fact that we do officially recognize some of their violations. It seems cheap to blame it all on AIPAC lobbying power, but it’s hard to see any other good reason the U.S. has been supporting Israel so strongly while they have been so clearly violating international laws. The “War on Terror” is certainly no excuse, since I doubt there is anyone who could make the argument that support for Israel isn’t making the U.S. a bigger target for Islamic extremists.
Whatever the reason, it is clear that Romney has bought into it. While Obama has unfortunately not strayed far from the stron pro-Israel path, he has at least stated support for a two-state solution with pre-1967 borders. This has sort of been the U.S. stance all along, but he was the first president to officially endorse it. Obama has still largely failed to do anything about it, largely due to Israel’s hard right leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, but his endorsement at least points the U.S. in the right direction.
With Romney apparently believing in a superior Israeli culture, it’s questionable how supportive he will be for any restoration of Palestinian rights. Ending this serious conflict has been enough of a struggle already, and such comments do absolutely nothing to help the situation.