Mitt Romney has mastered the art of an impressive maneuver worthy of an Olympic gymnast: the double reversal. Within two days he has changed positions twice on why Palestinians in the Occupied Territories live in abject poverty.
After initially walking back his comments attributing Israel’s prosperity and its neighbors’ lack thereof to their respective cultures, Romney has decided to double down, posting an item on National Review’s website defending his statement.
It all started on Sunday, when Romney said the following at a fundraiser in Jerusalem:
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. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.… 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 in selecting this place.
Naturally, some Palestinians took exception to the implication that they are culturally deficient or disfavored by God. Speaking to the Associated Press, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said: “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.”
Romney ignored the much more obvious culprits than culture, such as security restrictions, in suppressing Palestinian economic growth. As Ashley Parker wrote in the New York Times:
The Palestinians live under deep trade restrictions put in place by the Israeli government: After the militant group Hamas in 2007 took control of Gaza—home to about 1.7 million Palestinians—the Israelis imposed a near-total blockade on people and goods in Gaza. The blockade has been eased, and now many consumer goods are allowed in. But aid organizations say the restrictions still cripple Gaza’s economy. The West Bank, where 2.5 million Palestinians reside, is also subject to trade restrictions imposed by the Israelis.
The International Monetary Fund has observed the correlation between Israeli restrictions on trade and movement in the West Bank and Gaza and economic growth in the territories.
Even the people Romney was trying to compliment, Jews, might have been unnerved. Shalom Goldman wrote in Religion Dispatches, “It’s not only the Palestinian leadership that should be aghast at his remarks. Essentially, what the GOP’s candidate for president was saying is that ‘Jews are good with money.’… Students of Jewish history, and of Christian-Jewish relations, can’t help but being horrified by the tone-deafness of such language.”