- Published on Saturday, 04 August 2012 15:54
By Mousa Alshanteer
Though I was always critical of Romney's stance on foreign policy, his antagonistic trip overseas reaffirmed my beliefs that people truly change when it comes to the money – especially when that money could be used to finance a waning campaign. Despite Romney's ill-considered comments at the Olympics and the risqué words presented to the press by one of Romney's campaign managers, I was specifically drawn to the comments he presented during his campaign in Israel.
While the White House refuses to comment on the status of Jerusalem, our elected officials have maintained the view upheld by the United Nations in 1948 through UN General Assembly Resolution 194 – that Jerusalem ought to be an international city (CFR.org). This view is easy to preserve considering the ethic mixture and contested authority of the city. But Romney decided to tackle the issue by appealing to the nation's conservative minority. He took the road less traveled by and stated that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. In effect, he officially disregarded our nation's policy and if elected, will become the first president to declare the city under Israeli ownership.
And then I realized that Romney wasn't in Israel to express political concerns or even to criticize Obama, but to raise campaign donations. Romney stood with Jerusalem's Old City to his back and dozens of Israeli citizens before him, but Romney's advisors didn't pick just any Israeli citizens to attend his speech. Of course not. Attendees included former chairman of the Yesha Council - Israel Harel, a few of Netanyahu's consultants, and owners of the Yisrael Hayom newspaper – Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, both of whom pledged $100 million to the Romney campaign for the sole purpose of kicking Obama out of his seat (Boston Globe).
But that's not what infuriated me. No.
What really stuck with me was Romney's lopsided claim that Israel's economy is superior to that of the Palestinians due to cultural superiority. Speaking at a luncheon at Jerusalem's King David Hotel sponsored by Adelson himself, Romney told 40 wealthy donors that Israel has a far superior GDP per capita than areas managed by the Palestinian Authority. Despite exceptionally misstating GDP figures published by the United Nations three years ago, Romney decided to create his own economic figures.
"As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, 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 (ABC News)."
Well Mr. Romney, this "dramatically stark difference" is more "dramatically stark" than you presume. Israel's GDP per capita is more than $27,060 while that of the Palestinian authority is almost one-tenth of what you assumed - $1,367 (CNN). You didn't take it upon yourself to cross over into Palestinian land, to understand the reality on the ground, or to see the so-called 'security-wall'.
As Sam Bahour wrote in the Washington Post, Romney made history and proved beyond doubt that in order to qualify for the presidency, one must have little understanding of "history, economics, or reality" (Washington Post). But I'll have to disagree with the making history part. I believe Newt Gingrich did us that favor months ago by claiming that Palestinians are an "invented" people, that they are taught to kill in their textbooks, and that they are "all terrorists". But Romney accomplished a new low on his insult-the-world tour. While eating a $16,000 dinner, Romney prefixed the idea that Israel's economy was a result of cultural preeminence – that Palestine is to blame itself for the economic discrepancy. Well Mr. Romney – why not head over to the Palestinian territories and spend your $16,000 there. You'll have enough to eat for years.
An editorial in the New York Times (wait, what?) stated the following:
"Mr. Romney did American interests no favors when he praised Israeli economic growth while ignoring the challenges Palestinians face living under Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza. He showed troubling ignorance by understating the income disparity between Israel and those areas (New York Times)."
By favoring one facetious variable and disregarding multiple others, Romney abided by a spurious relationship – one in which two variables have no causal relationship. You know? Kind of like culture and economics. Romney obviously overlooked reports released by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund regarding the infrastructure of the Israeli occupation and its effects on the growth of the Palestinian economy (CNN). How can an economy become 'superior' with restrictions on movement, limited trade, hundreds of checkpoints, no access to over half of the land, and unadorned limits on water and agricultural access? Oh, I know how! ...magic.
Speaking in Saudi Arabia a few years ago, Bill Clinton (who wasn't worried about getting elected) offered a more honest assessment of Palestinian culture.
"I have never met a single poor Palestinian anywhere in the world except in the Palestinian territories. Every single Palestinian I know in America is a millionaire or a college professor, and I say that with deep respect, but when there is a conflict, when there is an absence of security, there is always an absence of opportunity (USA Today)."
Moreover, what frightens me the most about Governor Romney is that he didn't have two hours in between his contentious speech and $16,000 dinner to visit the head of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Rather than share publically any ideas to advance the peace process, as Thomas Friedman said, Romney would much rather "out pro-Israel the Democrats (New York Times)."
What we're doing wrong here is avoiding what our vital leaders did in the past. Jimmy Carter, Henry Kissinger, and James Baker all knew how to persuade both sides into negotiating a lasting peace. They knew that in order to constitute peace in the Middle East, one must get in the face of both sides, not feed off of one group and disregard the other for sheer political gain. Both Democrats and Republicans are using the conflict as a framework for campaign photographs and fundraisers. Friedman said himself that we are "making things even worse by telling the most hard-line Israelis everything that they want to hear just to grovel for Jewish votes and money (New York Times)."
It is becoming harder for me, as an independent voter, to choose one side over the other when both are making the same mistake by avoiding the conflict at hand. Sure, it's not the only issue fueling the presidential campaign but it's assuredly a very important one. What happened to the balanced mediation that graced our country's very presence? What happened to the ideals set forth by the likes of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton?
And most importantly, what will come out of the peace process when both sides are committing the same mistakes?
Mousa Alshanteer is currently a freshman at Duke University, where he is double majoring in Political Science and Public Policy. He is a bi-weekly columnist for the Palestine News Network.