Romney gaffes continue in Israel
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has outraged Palestinian leaders after declaring that Israeli culture allowed it to be more economically successful.
"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 dollars per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality," he said in Jerusalem.
The reaction of Palestinian leaders was swift and pointed, as Mr Romney continued to make gaffes on a three-country trip designed to bolster his foreign policy credentials while challenging President Barack Obama for the November election. The Israel visit was designed to appeal to the Jewish vote in a tight race.
"It is a racist statement and this man doesn't realise 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.
"It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people," Mr Erekat added. "He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority."
Mr Romney told a meeting of Jewish backers that he had read books and relied on his business experience to understand why the difference is so great. "And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognise the power of at least culture and a few other things," he said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the "hand of providence."
Mr Romney made no mention of the fact that Israel has controlled the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem since capturing them in the 1967 war. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but continues to control access, and has enforced a crippling border blockade since the Islamic militant Hamas seized the territory in 2007.
In the West Bank, Israel retains overall control, and Palestinians only have limited self-rule. Israel controls all border crossings in and out of the West Bank, and continues to restrict Palestinian trade and movement. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have said repeatedly that the Palestinian economy can only grow if Israel lifts those restrictions. "It's Israeli occupiers and Palestinians under occupation, and that's why Palestinians cannot realise their potential," Mr Erekat said.
The breakfast with top donors concluded the second leg of Mr Romney's three-nation overseas tour. Poland was next.
Mr Romney started last week in Britain, where he attended the opening of the London Olympics after drawing criticism, including from David Cameron, for calling some of the city's late-breaking preparation issues "disconcerting."