After committing the supposedly awful gaffe of saying what everyone was thinking–there were some “disconcerting” indicators in the run-up to the London Olympics–Mitt Romney has now once again told the truth, this time in Israel, only to have the press eagerly jump all over him for another supposed “gaffe.” This is what Gov. Romney (to whom I am, full disclosure, a defense adviser) said, as summed up by Politico:
“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,” the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who ate breakfast at the luxurious King David Hotel.
Romney said the economic history of the world has shown that “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,” Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the “hand of providence.” He said similar disparity exists between neighboring countries, like Mexico and the United States.
This drew an outraged reaction from veteran Palestinian processor Saeb Erekat who claimed: “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.”
In point of fact, there was nothing offensive–or particularly novel–in Romney’s observation. His words could have been drawn from the UN’s Arab Human Development Reports, written by Arab intellectuals, which have reached damning conclusions about the lack of freedom, education, women’s rights, and other factors holding back the Arab world. As the latest such report notes: “The Arab region is dominated by long-standing state structures which have inhibited the empowerment of Arab individuals and communities.”
The Arab Human Development Reports were considered big news when they first started coming out a decade ago because they represented a break with an age-old tradition in the Arab world: that of blaming outsiders for all of one’s woes. For decades Arab rulers, echoed by compliant intellectuals, have chosen to blame “Zionists,” “imperialists” and other bogeymen for their countries’ shortcomings. Thankfully, the Arab Spring represents a moment of self-awareness in which Arab publics are realizing that their own leaders are the cause of their woes.
There has been a corresponding, welcome development in the Palestinian Authority, where Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has been working to increase educational and economic development in the West Bank rather than simply claiming that “Israeli occupation” (which is nonexistent in the entire Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank) makes any progress impossible. Yet when push comes to shove, it is all too easy for veteran politicos like Erekat to fall back into veteran “blame the oppressor” mode and to damn anyone who speaks the truth–namely, that if Israel could prosper with no mineral resources, while surrounded by vastly larger enemies bent on its destruction, then why can’t Palestinians prosper with the support of the entire Arab world?
Much of the answer, of course, is that Palestinian development has been hijacked by corrupt opportunists (like those who dominate the Palestinian Authority) and fanatical extremists (like those who run Hamas). Gov. Romney was guilty of no gaffe. He was just telling it like it is: If Palestinians are to prosper, their culture–characterized all too often by anti-Semitism and blame-mongering–needs to change. Saeb Erekat’s comments only underline the point.