When insult is added to decades of injury, the offense cries to heaven for vengeance. Or at least that was what many Palestinians felt when Mitt Romney recently addressed a breakfast audience of wealthy Israelis in Tel Aviv. Forty major donors added to his campaign chest, and he told them what must have been music to their ears: that it was their culture that made the Israelis more economically successful than the Palestinians.
“Culture,” said Romney, “makes all the difference.” To back up this contention, he cited the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by scientist Jared Diamond, “Guns, Germs and Steel.”
Then to rub salt into the wounds that the Palestinians have borne since 1967, he asserted that all of Jerusalem was the capital of Israel. Never mind that Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal under international law and is not recognized by most nations, including the United States itself. Not to mention that the Palestinian people fervently desire East Jerusalem to be their capital if ever they’re allowed to exercise their right to self-determination and establish a state of Palestine.
In a matter of hours, Romney denied what he said in that breakfast talk, claiming the press had quoted him out of context, and then in another few hours he seemed to backtrack on his denial. “What exactly accounts for prosperity,” he asked, “if not culture?” Then the author of “Guns, Germs and Steel” spoke up and said that Romney had “misrepresented my views.” What Romney said in Tel Aviv, according to Diamond, “is so different from what my book actually says that I have to doubt whether Mr. Romney read it.”
For questioning the readiness of the British to host the Olympic Games when he was in London and for pandering to the Zionist moneybags while insulting the Palestinians when he was in Tel Aviv, Romney is fit to be tarred and feathered.
But the debasement of American foreign policy by a presidential aspirant is a non-issue to a great many American voters. He can behave like a knucklehead in Europe and in the Middle East and lose but a few votes. And if the economic turmoil in Europe drags down the American economy, Romney could be rewarded with a four-year tenancy of the White House.
That would be a bitter pill to Palestinians and to decent people who know the truth about Palestine.
Romney’s rival, incumbent President Barack Obama, is no saint himself. He has also catered to the American Zionist lobby, though not with the same brazenness that Romney does. For political expediency he has vowed to veto Palestine’s bid for statehood in the United Nations. But he has an inkling of what’s really going on in Palestine.
The real score is that Palestinians are as enterprising as the Lebanese or the Jews. Entrepreneurial spirit cannot flourish under the grinding boots of Israeli occupation. You can’t sell your produce if you can’t get through a checkpoint on the way to market. You can’t farm if your land is confiscated to become the site of an illegal settlement. You can’t get a salary if there’s a high wall between you and your workplace.
In spite of all that, Palestinians have pursued a dream of statehood, one familiar to Indonesians, since the Bandung Conference of 1955. Over the decades Indonesia has stood by Palestinians in their courageous struggle for statehood.
Today, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa is in Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority, to attend a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement Committee on Palestine. The meeting’s agenda is obvious: how to help Palestinians achieve statehood through UN membership or, in the meantime, an approximation of it.
Give them statehood and their culture will bloom. In his embrace of Israeli donors, Romney will never understand that.