Blundering into the tinderbox

    Can somebody please throw a blanket over Mitt Romney and hustle him off the world stage before he embarrasses himself – and his country – yet again?Granted, his foreign affairs experience begins and ends with his stint as a young Mormon missionary in France. But we might’ve at least hoped that the adult candidate would’ve been sufficiently briefed on Middle East nuances before he went blundering into that tinderbox. No such luck, however. And forget the nuances; this guy doesn’t even grasp the basics.Diplomacy 101: American presidents have long acted as mediators in the Middle East, seeing to quell Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Therefore, a candidate should never parachute into the region and exacerbate those tensions by insulting one side or the other – especially when the insult is grounded in ignorance. Words matter. Perceptions matter.In a Monday morning speech to wealthy Jewish donors – the panderfest was particularly aimed at right-wing billionaire Sheldon Adelson – Romney launched into a long riff about how the Israeli economy is so much more vital than the Palestinian economy, thanks to the supremacy of Israeli “culture.” From the transcript:”I was thinking this morning…about my perceptions about differences between countries. And as you come here and you see the GDP per capita for instance in Israel, which is about $21,000, and you 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 a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality…Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference. 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. One, I recognize the hand of Providence…”Enough of that. Let us annotate.For starters, Romney couldn’t even get the stats right; last year, Israel’s GDP per capita was roughly $30,000, and the Palestinian GDP was roughly $2900 – according to publicly available figures compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency. But the factual disparity is less important than the big reason for the disparity. A reason that Romney never bothered to mention:Israel is far more economically vital than the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza not because Israeli culture is inherently superior to Palestinian culture, but because Israel, as the occupying force, has long suppressed economic development in the occupied areas. This is a fundamental fact.The World Bank, in a recent report, stated that “the government of Israel’s security restrictions continue to stymie investment” in the Palestinian enclaves. The Israelis have imposed trade restrictions in the West Bank, and has blockaded the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza. Those blockades – according to the CIA World Factbook – “have resulted in high unemployment, elevated poverty rates, and the near collapse of the private sector that had relied on export markets.” As for the West Bank, the CIA says that Israeli policies “continue to disrupt labor and trade flows, industrial capacity, and basic commerce, eroding the (economy’s) productive capacity.”Did Romney willfully omit those crucial facts simply to butter up Adelson and the other Jewish donors? If so, he recklessly betrayed our sensitive role in the region by insulting Palestinian culture. Or was he simply unaware of Israel’s deleterious impact on the Palestinian economy? If so, his ignorance demonstrates that he lack the creds to play on the world stage.A senior Palestinian official was probably correct yesterday when he told the Associated Press that Romney “lacks information, knowledge, vision, and understanding of this region and its people.” And a former Israeli ambassador to the United States was right yesterday when he reportedly said of Romney’s remarks, “There’s no doubt about Israel’s economic achievement over the years, but I would not compare that to the Palestinian economy because obviously the Palestinian economy operates under different conditions.”Look at that: A Palestinian and an Israeli actually agreed on something. At least Romney brought them together, albeit at his own expense.Not surprisingly, Romney’s flaks insisted yesterday that the candidate had done no wrong. Senior strategist Stuart Stevens said that Romney had not insulted the Palestinians; it was all just “a completely manufactured story.”Yeah, whatever. Meanwhile, it’s clear that even the Israeli government was unimpressed with Romney’s fact-challenged pander. Late yesterday, Israeli deputy prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak spoke on CNN about President Obama’s foreign policy team:”They are extremely good, extremely deep and profound. I can see long years (of) administrations on both sides of the political aisle deeply supporting the state of Israel and I believe that reflects a profound feeling among the American people. But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”No word yet on whether the Romney campaign deems Barak’s comments to be “manufactured.” But for 70 to 75 percent of America’s Jewish voters (the usual Democratic share), those comments will surely suffice.

    But wait, we’re not done yet. Early this morning, in Poland, a Romney flak pioneered a new frontier in press communication. At the site of a war memorial, American journalists tried to ask Romney about his stupid Israeli-Palestinian remarks – and their efforts ticked off Rick Gorka, the traveling press secretary. Who proceeded to utter the quote of the week:

    “Kiss my ass, this is a holy site.”

    Which prompts me to ask: Are the political satirists at Veep scripting Mitt’s campaign?

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal