Romney’s international-foray-as-campaign-tour was epitomized by his centerpiece stay in Israel, where on Monday he told an audience of American donors that the sluggish Palestinian economy is plagued more by “cultural” differences than by the strictures of the decades-old Israeli occupation.
“I was thinking this morning as I prepared to come into this room of a discussion I had across the country in the United States about my perceptions about differences between countries,” Romney told the gathering at Jerusalem's King David Hotel, where he raised more than $1 million.
The assessment is one not widely shared within Israel, and suggested a lack of sustained study or nuanced understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.
He went on to compare Israel’s economy with that of the Palestinian territories, which he seemed to suggest make up a country of their own. He said that Israel’s annual per-capita gross domestic product is $21,000 — it is actually $32,282 — and that the Palestinian figure is $10,000 — more than five times as large as it actually is.
“You notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality,” Romney noted. “And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.”
Despite the missteps from London to Jerusalem, political analysts say the legacy of Romney’s trip will have little effect on a U.S. election that will be decided by economic conditions at home.
“This really is an election about the economy,” said Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, a nonprofit organization that promotes a two-state solution to the conflict.
Ibish contrasted this election to the one four years ago, when, at a time of two wars, foreign policy was a chief concern for voters.
But, he said, referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “this issue, in particular, has fallen off the map of U.S. foreign policy attention.” He predicted that Romney probably will not suffer politically for the position he has taken this week.
“It might be effective politics, especially with fundraising,” Ibish said. “But to those who know the issue, his comments do not reflect the actual challenges facing the Palestinian economy.”
For months, Romney has called President Obama a weak leader who is more inclined to appease antagonists than assert American power on behalf of U.S. interests and allies.
So his six-day visit to some of the nations most friendly to the United States offered Romney an opportunity to detail his differences with a president who, excluding Israel, is still highly popular in many nations