Mitt Romney is now two-for-two in insulting large swaths of people during his international tour. After he enraged the British by suggesting that their Olympics might not be as awesome as his Olympics, Romney moved on to Israel, where he appeared to blame Palestinian poverty in part on “providence” and the territory’s inferior culture during a fund-raiser with American citizens in Jerusalem today. After noting that Israel’s GDP-per-capita income is $21,000 while Palestine’s is a paltry $10,000 (it’s actually more like $31,000 and $1,500, respectively, according to the AP), Romney offered up this explanation for the disparity:
“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.” He said similar disparity exists between neighboring countries, like Mexico and the United States.
A senior aide to the Palestinian prime minister was, predictably, displeased. “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,” Saeb Erekat told the AP. “It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people.”
Is this actually a bad controversy for Romney, politically? On the one hand, Romney wants his trip to give him foreign policy credibility and to make voters comfortable with the idea of him serving as the country’s chief diplomat, and a constant stream of headlines about him pissing off one country after another doesn’t really communicate that. On the other hand, if he’s going to infuriate someone, it might as well be the Palestinians. You probably don’t need any proof that American voters don’t have an overly fond opinion of Palestinians, but here is a graph anyway:
As for the substance of Romney’s remarks, the World Bank, for one, seems to agree with Erekat, at least on the question of Israel’s role in depressing the Palestinian economy. In a recent report on the economies of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, it concludes that the “major constraints to private sector activity are the tight Israeli restrictions, and growth will not be sustainable until Palestinians have access to resources and are allowed to move freely.”
Ignoring Israel’s role is a major omission if one is actually trying to explain the differences in GDP-per-capita between Israel and Palestine. Of course, an accurate and thorough analysis was not Mitt’s goal.