The recent visit of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to Israel, which he had hoped would to improve his faint popularity, has backfired. This can in part be attributed to his widely condemned comments about the Palestinian culture, which he saw as inferior to Israel’s because the latter’s economy has been more successful.
Much to Romney’s chagrin, President Barack Obama remains ahead, especially in key swing states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The former Massachusetts governor seems ignorant about Israel’s actions in the West Bank, which was supposed to be under the virtual jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, but of which now more than 40 per cent is restricted to the Israeli military and illegal settlers.
Following the 1967 war, which led to the Israeli occupation of all of Palestine, about half a million Israelis have illegally moved into the occupied West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem where the Palestinians still hope to establish their future capital. The size of West Jerusalem in the early days of he occupation, where a large Palestinian Arab community lived, was about 38 square kilometers, while Arab East Jerusalem was only six square kilometers.
According to B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights non-governmental organization, the Israeli government has since 1967 annexed some 70 sq.km. to the municipal boundaries of West Jerusalem “and imposed Israeli law there”. Furthermore, “an additional 64 sq.km., most of which belonged to 28 Palestinian villages in the West Bank, and part of the municipalities of Bethlehem and Beit Jala, two neighboring Arab towns, are also illegally under the jurisdiction of East Jerusalem.
More significant is the fact that Israel still controls all the borders of the Palestinian territories, except for Gaza Strip, which is run by Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic group.
The outcry against Romney in the U.S. and elsewhere was topped last Monday by a petition from Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a U.S.-based national grassroots peace organization, that was signed by some 17,000 Americans, calling on the U.S. presidential aspirant “to apologize for the ignorant and offensive remarks he made while in Jerusalem.”
JVP’s Pam Rogers said that he also should “apologize to the Palestinian people for his uninformed and derogatory comments.”
More oil to the fire has been added worldwide. A hard-hitting commentary was provided by influential New York Times commentator Thomas L. Friedman on August 1. His sharp rebuke targeted the ongoing American pandering to Israel: “So how about all you US politicians — Republicans and Democrats — stop feeding off this conflict for political gain. Stop using this (Arab-Israeli) conflict as a backdrop for campaign photo-ups and fund-raisers. Stop making things even worse by telling the most hardline Israelis everything that they want to hear, just to grovel for Jewish votes and money, while blatantly ignoring the other side. There are real lives at stake out there. If you’re not going to do something constructive, stay away.
They can make enough trouble for themselves on their own.”
Similarly, the British ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, a Jew, was quoted as telling an Israeli television channel that “Israelis might wake up in 10 years’ time and find out that the level of understanding in the international community has suddenly changed, and that patience for continuing the status quo has reduced.”
In an “unusually forthright interview”, as described by The Guardian of London, the ambassador added that he had detected a shift among the middle ground of British members of parliament towards a more critical view of Israel.
Hopefully, Romney and his arch-supporter, Los Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson have heard Friedman’s suggestion and drop the latter’s pleas to Romney.
The Daily Best has reported that Adelson is urging the governor to work to release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, to state publicly that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are a waste of time, and to display commitment to moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in what would be a de facto recognition of Israel’s annexation of Arab East Jerusalem.
Topping all these criticism has been Israel’s refusal this week to allow four senior diplomatic delegations to enter the West Bank for a meeting with the Palestinian leadership, aimed at gathering support for a second bid by the Palestinians to seek observer status at the United Nations when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the world body in late September.
All this has prompted Israeli commentator Akiva Eldar to write: “A country that has promised to provide Jews who have gathered there from all corners of the globe with peace, security and welfare, is offering them more blood, more sweat and more tears.”
George S. Hishmeh is a columnist for The Jordan Times, where this article was published on August 10, 2012