WITH THE visit to England mercifully in his rear-view mirror, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney took his campaign aircraft to Israel, the next stop in his whirlwind international tour, in search of some kind of redemption. His arrival in Tel Aviv, a visit meant to underscore the candidate’s support for Israel and to form the backdrop for tough talk about Iran, was pre-empted in masterful fashion by President Obama, who signed a U.S.-Israeli security act into law just hours before Romney touched down.
But the Israel leg of the Romney tour seemed to start out calmly, even predictably. Given the volatility of the region, and the gaffes he’s still papering over from England, predictable would have been better than anything else. Too bad it didn’t work out like that.
In almost as many days, Romney wasted an opportunity to rebrand himself and establish his campaign’s geopolitical bona fides. With boilerplate encomiums wrapped in postcard perceptions, followed by a profound misreading of the life of the region that managed to insult Israelis and Palestinians alike, the former Massachusetts governor whiffed at the plate again.
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Hunt, noting that Romney “sometimes has given donors more policy specifics than he includes in his standard campaign speeches,” reported that some of his contributors with the deepest pockets, including casino titan Sheldon Adelson, would attend on Monday.
Fast forward to Sunday. Team Romney does the full 180, announcing that, you know what, reporters will be allowed into the fundraiser after all.
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That over with, Romney took the podium in Jerusalem’s Old City for an address on Israeli-American relations and the prospect for armed confrontation with Iran.
“Make no mistake, the ayatollahs in Iran are testing our moral defenses. They want to know who will object and who will look the other way," he said. “We will not look away nor will our country ever look away from our passion and commitment to Israel.”
Alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (a friend of more than 35 years), Romney was as full-throated in his support of Israel as he was, previously, tepid in his assessment of England and its Olympic Games.
Romney basically abided by the unwritten rule of not criticizing U.S. foreign policy from abroad. In a pre-arrival CNN interview, responding to a question about moving the U.S. embassy, Romney said “[m]y understanding is the policy of our nation has been a desire to move our embassy ultimately to the capital (Jerusalem). I would only want to do so and to select the timing in accordance with the government of Israel.”
Kasie Hunt of The AP reports: “In his speech, Romney said Syrian President Bashar Assad 'desperately clings to power' in Damascus in the face of an attempted overthrow, but he did not call for his removal.
“He noted that Egypt is now headed by an ‘Islamist president, chosen in a Democratic election. ... The international community must use its considerable influence to insure that the new government honors the peace agreement with Israel that was signed by the government of Anwar Sadat’ more than three decades ago, he said.”
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A RITUAL support of abiding by existing agreements. An exceedingly careful sidestep away from the volatile embassy issue. So far, so good. Oh, one comment, when he
Young as Israel is at 64 years old, there are a number of other countries that have been created in the decades since 1948. The phrase also suggests an improvisation of identity that would seem to be at odds with Israel’s bedrock sense of itself, its government and its place in the world.
And that crack Romney made about how “[d]iplomatic distance that is public and critical emboldens Israel's adversaries” — a swipe at the Obama administration's chafing with Israel under Netanyahu — probably wasn’t necessary, but it wasn’t the end of the world.
Romney seemed to be holding his own until the fundraiser Monday morning at the King David Hotel. That’s when the candidate, feeling his oats at a campaign fundraiser that would raise $1 million, enraged Palestinians with a callous misperception of the tale of two economies, and how they got to be that way.
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“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,” he said.
“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.”
A few other things. Like the disparities of opportunity that arise after years of occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, economic blockades and he ever-present risk of sudden attack, like the one that killed more than 240 Palestinians as a result of Israeli air strikes on Hamas strongholds in Gaza in December 2008.
“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," said Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.