Mitt Romney's remarks at a Jerusalem fundraiser Monday morning have caused a stir among Palestinian officials, according to news accounts.
The Republican presidential candidate, speaking at a breakfast before about 40 wealthy donors, said “I was thinking this morning as I prepared to come into this room of a discussion I had across the country in the United States about my perceptions about differences between countries.
He cited "a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality" between Israel and areas managed by the Palestinian Authority.
He noted other countries "that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States. I noted that part of my interest when I used to be in the world of business is I would travel to different countries was to understand why there were such enormous disparities in the economic success of various countries."
He said he's read extensively on the subject, and concluded one reason involves a country's resources.
But in Israel's case, he said, "You look at Israel and you say you have a hard time suggesting that all of the natural resources on the land could account for all the accomplishment of the people here. And likewise other nations that are next door to each other have very similar, in some cases, geographic elements."
Another reasons, Romney suggested, quoting an author, "culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference. 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.
"One, I recognize the hand of providence in selecting this place. I’m told in a Sunday school class I attended— I think my son Tagg was teaching the class. He’s not here. I look around to see. Of course he’s not here. He was in London. He taught a class in which he was describing the concern on the part of some of the Jews that left Egypt to come to the promised land, that in the promised land was down the River Nile, that would provide the essential water they had enjoyed in Egypt.
"They came here recognizing that they must be relied upon, themselves and the arm of God to provide rain from the sky. And this therefore represented a sign of faith and a show of faith to come here. That this is a people that has long recognized the purpose in this place and in their lives that is greater than themselves and their own particular interests, but a purpose of accomplishment and caring and building and serving. There’s also something very unusual about the people of this place."
Romney had already upset the Palestinian community during his visit to Israel Sunday, saying in a widely-noted speech that "It is deeply moving to be in Jerusalem – the capital of Israel.”
The United States does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital, and the U.S. embassy is in Tel Aviv. Palestinians say East Jerusalem will be the capital of their state, and Jerusalem's status is a major item in peace negotiations.
Romney's Monday remarks were criticized by Saeb Erekat, senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, according to the Associated Press.
"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," AP quoted Erekat as saying. "It seems to me this man (Romney) lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people,
"He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority."