Marc Goldberg

Romney, the Palestinians and “Culture”

The truth is that before any words came out of Romney’s mouth journalists sat poised to make them as controversial as possible. The mere fact that a US Presidential candidate came to Jerusalem while on the campaign trail is a pretty controversial act so people everywhere were likely ready to jump on his comments, whatever they were.

That said he really did offer a nice little sound bite for his opposition to smirk about when he said the following;

“As I come here and I look out over this city [Jerusalem] and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things”

The Palestinian reaction to his comments from spokesman Saeb Erakat was one of predictable outrage;

“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” he said, he then went on to say that “It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people…He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.”

Wow, it appears that Saeb prefers even Israeli occupiers to this knowledge lacking American!

I do agree with Erakat that the Palestinian economy can’t reach its full potential because of the Israeli occupation. Since we both agree that this is the case what I can’t understand is why this fact hasn’t given the PA added motivation to more aggressively pursue negotiations with Israel. A Palestinian state unencumbered by occupation awaits and yet they sit back and do nothing.

Time and again we come back to this very same point. The PA need to negotiate their way out of occupation, Palestinian politicians to simply sitting on the sidelines being angry is not going to change the dynamic here.

Writing about Romney’s comments in The Guardian, journalist Rachel Shabi wrote the following:

“Perhaps, when the Republican visitor noted that Palestinians were stumped by “a few other things” he was just using internationally recognised shorthand? Maybe he meant “things” like Israel’s 45-year occupation, which has kept a chokehold on Palestinians, while at the same time creating a captive market for Israeli products, boosting the occupier’s economy. Maybe he’s parsing for “things” like the checkpoints, barriers and roadblocks that thwart movement of Palestinians and products – and thereby railroad any attempts to revive an economy. And he couldn’t possibly have referenced “things” without it also alluding to America’s generous aid package to Israel, the largest annual recipient of US financial assistance and whose military aid was upped just prior to Romney’s visit.”

Shabi actually raises the most easily removed sticking points in the conflict. The Palestinian Authority has the power to see an end to such things as checkpoints, that captive market for Israeli products that she refers to, as well as free movement throughout the West Bank simply by negotiating with Israel.

Successive Israeli governments have already agreed to withdraw from so much of the West Bank that all of the above would disappear. It is, ironically the refusal of the PA to make a deal that has ensured that there is not currently a strong Palestinian economy or for that matter state in existence.

That being the case perhaps Romney’s not wrong to be talking about differences in culture al all.


About the Author
Marc Goldberg is the author of Beyond the Green Line, a story his service in the IDF fighting through the al Aqsa Intifada