Occupation, Not Culture, Is Holding Palestinians Back

Published on
by
The New York Times

Occupation, Not Culture, Is Holding Palestinians Back

by
Munib R. Masri

NABLUS, West Bank - Earlier this week, while Israel’s cheerleaders and Las Vegas casino moguls were parsing every syllable uttered by Mitt Romney in Jerusalem as fastidiously as the Olympic judges were scrutinizing every back flip in London, millions of Palestinians issued a giant collective yawn.

There was little anger when Mr. Romney made thinly veiled racist allusions to the supposed inferiority of Palestinian culture and genuflected at the altar of distant fund-raising thrones in New York and Los Angeles.

Of course, Hamas sputtered rejections and the Iranians hyperbolically accused Romney of “kissing the foot” of Israel — shrill criticisms easily dismissed in the West.

On the legendary “Palestinian street,” however, there was only weariness after Mr. Romney’s slight. It was nothing we haven’t heard before, nothing we haven’t seen in so many other pre-election panderings.

American Jews like to split hairs over which candidate is more pro-Israel or who better represents their interests: Is Mr. Obama’s facial expression lacking? Is that omitted adjective by Mr. Romney significant? But ask 9 out of 10 Palestinians and you will get an identical response: “There is no difference between Obama and Romney.”

President Obama brought his clarion call for hope and change to Cairo early in his tenure. He said nice, positive things about respecting the Muslim world and encouraging a true peace between Israel and Palestine. And then he did nothing in slow motion for more than three years.

... ask 9 out of 10 Palestinians and you will get an identical response: “There is no difference between Obama and Romney.”

Now Mr. Romney has waded into the debate. His claim that there can be “no daylight” between Israeli and American policies amused us here in the West Bank. In fact, there is no daylight today under Mr. Obama, nor was there under George W. Bush. America’s veto of Palestine’s bid for statehood in the United Nations Security Council continues to stifle our legitimate ambitions for self-determination. Like peas in a pod or twins in a crib, American foreign policy and Israel’s desires move in tandem. Palestine plays no role whatsoever in this cozy equation.

Mr. Romney believes that Israel’s impressive economic growth is because of the country’s strong culture and that the Palestinian economy lags because — implicitly — our culture is inferior.

As one of the most successful businessmen and industrialists in Palestine today (there are many of us), I can tell Mr. Romney without doubt or hesitation that our economy has two arms and one foot tied behind us not by culture but by occupation.

It’s hard to succeed, Mr. Romney, when roadblocks, checkpoints and draconian restrictions on the movement of goods and people suffocate our business environment. It is a tribute to the indomitable spirit of our Palestinian culture that we have managed to do so well despite such onerous constraints.

It was predictable that Mr. Romney would eventually visit our area — although he didn’t actually set foot on our land or see how we live up close and personal — in order to score points.

Palestinians were genuinely saddened, however, by the fact that he deliberately chose to ignore us. There was nary a word about our plight, our day-to-day challenges, our rights and our future. We were here, just meters away from his entourage, yet we were not on his radar or on his agenda.

To paraphrase an ancient observation: Romney came. He saw only what his advisers permitted him to see. And he conquered his fund-raising goals by saying what his boosters insisted on hearing, while completely ignoring one of the two peoples who live here.

But peace is not made by ignoring one party while lionizing the other. In Palestine, we stubbornly continue to hope that the occupant of the White House will one day recognize this.

Munib R. Masri, a businessman and industrialist, is the chairman of Padico, the Palestine Development and Investment Company.

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