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September 21, 2012
Most of the recent blowback in the United States against Mitt Romney, the GOP candidate for president, has focused on his now infamous "47%" comments, referring to the 47% of the U.S. population that pays no income tax and, according to Mr. Romney, relies on U.S. government’s largesse to live. However, it is Romney’s less-discussed comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that have caught the attention of most editorials and commentator in the Middle East. While most observers have expressed dismay at Romney’s characterization of Palestinians as an impediment to the peace process, in Israel it is President Barack Obama’s perceived bias against Israel that has ruffled feathers and has some concerned about what a (now increasingly likely) Obama second term means for Israel.
For some, Mitt Romney’s comments reveal the real attitude of Washington toward the Palestinians, which as Maan News’ Daoud Kuttab suggests might require a serious reconsideration for how the Palestinians engage with the peace process: “The revelation of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy attitude when it comes to the Palestinians sheds light on the gap between declared policies and the truth....A secretly taped conversation...shows a total rejection by Romney of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict....Palestinians, Arabs and supporters of peace and justice in the Middle East cannot afford to ignore this revealing video of the attitude of a major U.S. presidential candidate. If there was a reason for a total reassessment of Palestinian strategies and approaches to peace making, this certainly would be the time to do so.”
Picking up on Romney’s penchant for shifting positions depending on the issues and the audience, the Saudi Gazette editorial issues a scathing criticism of the GOP candidate’s comments on the Palestinians: “Romney is acquiring a reputation for changing his policies, depending on where and to whom he is speaking. However, when it comes to talking about Palestine, Romney’s thinking seems to come straight out of the George W. Bush Single Syllable Mid-East Foreign Policy Primer....Such fidelity means buying the ‘ever-violent, ever-vengeful Palestinians’ line and the conviction that the Palestinians are incapable of running their own affairs properly, and are certainly not candidates for any sort of statehood. “
Projecting forward to a possible Romney presidency, a Gulf Times editorial expresses the concern that Romney “pulled the rug out from any chance of an even-handed Middle East policy by stating his belief that Palestinians would never agree to peace and were ‘committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel’....Even reliable conservative supporters such as William Kristol called the remarks ‘arrogant and stupid’ and questioned if Romney was the right nominee for the conservative Republican Party....Those negative views have been building with a lot of help from the candidate himself.”
In yet another Gulf daily editorial, Gulf Today staff characterizes the Mitt Romney’s attitude toward the Palestinians as “shocking since they highlight the ignorance of someone who could become the president of the United States....hopes for realizing the goal of a two-state solution are fading fast, given Israel’s obstinacy in imposing its version of a solution on the Palestinians. Romney does not seem to have a position of his own on the Palestinian problem. Like most other previous presidents, he simply subscribes to the Israeli thinking about the issue, and that does not bode well for the Palestinians and the Arabs if he beats the heavy odds and wins the U.S. presidency.”
For many Israeli politicians and political pundits, meanwhile, Romney’s penchant for gaffes, both in the domestic and the international arena, mean that President Barack Obama, more likely than not, is headed for victory this November, and at least for one writer, that would be detrimental to Israel’s national interests.
Reflecting on this year’s debate during the Democratic National Convention regarding the content of the party’s platform on issues related to Jerusalem, the settlements, and other related matters, Shoula Romano Horing notes “One only has to review the pro-Israel sections of the 2008 and 2004 Democratic Party platforms which were removed from the 2012 Democratic Party platform to realize at last Obama’s true intentions and plans for Israel in his second term and how disastrous it will be to Israel’s security and survival if he is reelected....The Democrats and their Jewish supporters’ denials and excuses concerning Obama’s commitment to Israel, are wishful thinking and blindly naive. U.S. Jews should carefully consider the consequences of choosing Obama over the Jewish state.”
Still, as Jerusalem Post’s Douglas Bloomfield reports, Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have made peace with the fact that his more likely interlocutor for the next four years may still be President Barack Obama: “Netanyahu may personally prefer Romney but for a guy working in a city with a world-famous wall, he knows how to read the handwriting.... It is dawning on Netanyahu that Obama is likely to be around for another four years, and 2013 will be an election year in Israel. Netanyahu, who was defeated for reelection in 1999...in no small part because he had a reputation for not being able to work well with the country’s most important ally and best friend, doesn’t want history to repeat itself.”
In another Jerusalem Post op-ed, Ben Caspit considers the implications of an Obama second term for Netanyahu’s political prospects: “Netanyahu’s people are well aware of what they can expect from the White House in a second term for Obama. They are fully aware of how much the American president has grown to despise everything that the Israeli prime minister represents....What is clear is that Netanyahu will have to pay a heavy price for his past actions. This is bad news for the Right, for settlers, and for anyone else who has forged ties with Romney. . I would not fall off my chair if Obama’s second term begins with a new freeze in settlement construction and a resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians.”
But perhaps it is not too late for Romney to turn his campaign around and score an upset. In a recent editorial, the Khaleej Times staff has some advice for the GOP candidate: “Romney’s earlier jibes on foreign policy and especially with reference to the Palestinians, saying that they are uninterested in making peace just goes on establish his bizarreness....What can inspire the electorate is an agenda that should reflect priorities close to their heart — and not issues that are superficial in substance. Romney still has time to stage a comeback. He should exhibit his aptitude rather than attitude.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at email@example.com.