Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney aroused protest and condemnation for the second day in a row on Monday when he suggested at a private fundraising event in Israel -- hosted by US millionaire Sheldon Aldeson and other wealthy donors -- that Israeli financial prowess, compared to Palestinians, could be attributed to "cultural differences".
Palestinians called the remarks racist and pointed out that the Palestinian people of the West Bank and Gaza have lived under military occupation and economic blockade for decades, a fact Romney failed to mention.
The Romney campaign had originally barred reporters from the money-raising event, but relented after strong protest from journalists and their media outlets.
"As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality," the Republican presidential candidate told the wealthy audience at the luxurious King David Hotel.
"And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things," Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the "hand of providence."
The reaction of Palestinian leaders to Romney's comments did not mince words.
"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," said Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"It seems to me this man (Romney) lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people," Erekat added, and said that even Israelis don't say such outrageous things.
"It's Israeli occupiers and Palestinians under occupation, and that's why Palestinians cannot realize their potential," Erekat said.
Romney's remarks on Monday followed controversial statements he made over the weekend concerning the city Jerusalem and what he would do as president concerning the US embassy.
On Sunday, in an interview with CNN, Romney by said that Jerusalem was the rightful capital city of Israel and suggesting that if elected he would support relocating the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Jerusalem was captured by the Israel in the 1967, but the international community strongly condemns its annexation and the UN considers it an ongoing violation of the international law. The fate of the city is one of the main sticking points in ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
"A nation has the capacity to choose its own capital city, and Jerusalem is Israel's capital," Romney said. "I think it's long been the policy to ultimately have our embassy in the nation's capital of Jerusalem."
Erekat responded to these commnets by calling them "absolutely unacceptable," and added that "such statements and policy will push the region toward extremists."
Erekat noted that Romney's positions on Jerusalem go against long-standing U.S. policy.
"At the end of the day, the U.S. has interests in this region, it has embassies in 57 Arab and Muslim countries," he said. "I don't think they will sacrifice everything for such statements, mere disturbing statements that will strengthen extremists in the region."
According to the Associated Press, Romney's remarks on the subject of Jeruselam at the fundraiser on Monday drew a standing ovation from his audience, which included Adelson, the American businessman who has promised to donate more than $100 million to help defeat Obama.
# # #