Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Were Romney's remarks in Israel a gaffe? And were they true?

Romney's trip abroad has gotten much more coverage than he and his top planners probably thought it would. But working off of the old adage that no publicity is bad publicity (which is definitely not true for presidential candidates, at least those who are nominees of major parties), possibly it was intended this way. While Romney's remarks about the Olympics in London were possibly clumsy, they are unlikely to lose him votes in America. The same can be said of his remarks in Israel that culture was responsible for the difference between the Israeli GDP and the Palestinian GDP. But is the last remark true?

Culture can be divided into many different facets or areas: religion, language, folk customs, and political culture. It is this last area that is most relevant as both the Jews and Palestinians display entrepreneurial talent among their populations. The Jews have been famous (or infamous) for their business skills and Palestinians are said to be the Jews of the Arab world: economists, doctors, and merchants. They are particularly appreciated in the Gulf.  Romney was probably then referring to political culture.

As Marc Thiessen points out in the Washington Post the Palestinian political culture has been one of resistance, revenge, and irredentism. If one follows the speeches of prominent Palestinian spokesmen for any of the major prominent factions (Fatah, Hamas, PFLP, DFLP, PIJ) the occupation is seen as a convenient cover that can be used to explain any fault of the Palestinians. In fact they use it in much the same way as Fidel Castro and his brother Raul use the American embargo of Cuba. This works in nice symbiosis with the Israeli Right, which uses terrorism as a cover for any fault in Israel or the occupied territories. Thus the two serve to prop each other up in power--terrorism demands occupation, more security and more settlements and occupation demands more terrorism. Thus, it is typical that Saeb Erekat of the Palestinian Authority labeled Romney's remarks as racist. Those who criticize the Palestinians are racist and those who criticize Israel are anti-semitic.

But as Tom Friedman points out in a column in the New York Times, Romney's trip was all about fundraising. And fundraising from one donor in particular: Sheldon Adelson who financed Newt Gingrich's challenge to Romney during the winter and spring primary season. At least in the Republican Party Israel policy is not about appeasing Jews, but largely about appeasing Protestant Evangelicals, few of whom will disagree with Romney's remarks. So, ironically it may be said that Romney the Mormon uses the Jews to enhance his Christian credentials in the Republican Party.

Incidentally, as should be clear, I agree with Thiessen's remarks. But I also think that the Israeli settlement effort and the additional security it requires is a major economic burden for Palestinians. Here is a link to an article that explains in deal how Israeli culture affects the business culture.

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