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Romney Reserved but Rational on Mideast

As Jonathan notes, the media will be working overtime to milk Mitt Romney’s comments at a private fundraiser as much as possible, but they are unlikely to get much traction with Romney’s remarks on the Middle East. The New York Times’s David Sanger does his level best today, even throwing in a reaction quote from Hamas for posterity (spoiler: Hamas thinks Romney is controlled by Zionists). But Sanger, in the end, comes away with nothing much because on this issue, Romney appears to have a thoughtful and realistic, if gloomy, opinion.

When asked at this fundraiser about “the Palestinian problem,” Romney responded by pointing out that even beyond the notorious sticking points in the peace process, there are other issues—Would the Palestinian state be demilitarized? Would it have sole, or shared, control of its airspace?—that suggest the conflict is much more complex than most politicians are ready to admit. And Romney did conclude by saying he hoped something would change the calculus and bring about a breakthrough in the peace process. Sanger’s use of Hamas was ostensibly to demonstrate that the Palestinians “had a different view.” That may be, but Hamas is as opposed to the peace process as anyone, and Sanger seems unaware of the irony in having a Hamasnik criticize someone else’s pessimism on the peace process.

The part of Romney’s comments getting the most attention seem to be his suggestion that the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas, are in no mood to make a deal:

And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, “There’s just no way.” And so what you do is you say, “You move things along the best way you can.” You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem.

Since Abbas refuses to even negotiate with Israel and has not tempered the anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in Palestinian Authority media, Romney’s comments were accurate. And as I wrote last month, all sides are working toward a “degree of stability” in lieu of negotiations, with Israel even asking the International Monetary Fund to approve another handsome loan to the PA. The Saudis, meanwhile, have begun flooding Gaza with cash.

So on the whole, Romney’s vision for the conflict in the near term may not be particularly sunny, but it also may be far less reckless than the alternative at the moment. Sanger also writes about Romney’s opinion of the aspiring genocidal mullahs in Iran: they’re irrational and dangerous. Sanger suggests this would make trouble for a Romney administration, but never explains how—because it wouldn’t. In fact, Sanger doesn’t actually explain anything in the piece, he just refers to the reader’s assumed understanding of Romney’s opinions.

For example, he opens his article by insisting Romney’s comments offer absolutely nothing new. “No one has ever had any illusions about where Mitt Romney stands” on the Palestinians and Iran, he writes. But he doesn’t say where, exactly, Romney stands on those issues. Then he gives readers a clue: “In both cases, he has taken positions very close to those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, his friend from their days together as young consultants here in Boston.”

The weirdly out of place and suggestive conflation of Romney and Netanyahu is also only a hint: Sanger doesn’t explain where Netanyahu stands on these issues either, so the name-dropping provides no information.

So why is Sanger’s article all winks and nods? Because Romney’s position on the Arab-Israeli conflict boils down to this: until the Palestinians choose to participate in the peace process, the goal must be stability in an otherwise volatile region. And his position on Iran is that he doesn’t consider the mullahs to be rational actors who could be contained safely if they possess nuclear weapons. If the Times thinks those positions are beyond the pale simply because Netanyahu also happens to hold them, they are grossly misreading the mood of the American public.



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