BEIRUT–Video footage published Monday of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a private fundraiser revealed the GOP nominee had little faith that a peaceful solution could be found between Israelis and Palestinians, blaming the impasse on Palestinian unwillingness.
At the $50,000-a-plate May dinner in Florida, Romney can be heard saying in the video, “We kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen.”
Romney began his comments by saying he had “two perspectives” on the Middle East peace process, but in the video footage, published on the website of left-leaning Mother Jones magazine, he seemed highly skeptical, if not downright dismissive, of the two-state solution he endorsed during a trip to Jerusalem in July.
“I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, ‘There’s just no way,’” he told the Boca Raton donors.
Among the ”thorny issues” Romney referred to were the security problems that would arise from an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, about how Iran could sneak weapons into the West Bank to target Israel if Israel did not militarily control the Jordan Valley border between Jordan and the West Bank, or the air traffic coming into the West Bank. He made no mention of the Gaza Strip as being part of a future “Palestinian nation.”
“And so what you do is you say, ‘You move things along the best way you can,”" Romney said. “You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem.”
Moving on to his second perspective, Romney offered the opinion of an unnamed former secretary of state who told him peace was possible.
“I said, “Really?” And, you know, his answer was, ‘Yes, I think there’s some prospect.’ And I didn’t delve into it.”
Neither the Obama campaign nor the Democratic National Committee attacked Romney directly on the Middle East portion of the remarks, which came in answer to a supporter’s question about the “Palestinian problem.” They followed comments Romney made in a previously leaked video from the same fundraising event in which he said 47 percent of voters believe they are “victims” and would probably vote for President Obama.
But the DNC sent the Mother Jones report around to reporters, highlighting the “kick the ball down the field” line.
“There is this one obvious truth: Peace will not be possible if the extreme elements of the Palestinian side refuse to come to the table for talks or to recognize Israel’s right to exist,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement Tuesday. “Gov. Romney believes that the path to a two-state solution is to ensure the security of Israel, and not to throw up any more barriers to the two sides engaging in direct negotiations.”
When Romney visited Jerusalem at the end of July, he told the Haaretz newspaper that he believed in a two-state solution.
“The question is not whether the people of the region believe that there should be a Palestinian state,” he said. “The question is if they believe there should be an Israeli state, a Jewish state.”
A top Palestinian official accused Romney of being racist after the GOP candidate appeared to argue at a fundraiser that the difference in GDP per capita between Israelis and Palestinians stemmed from culture.
“As I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation [Israel], I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” he said.
Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the statement racist. “This man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation.”
The Romney campaign called the comments “grossly mischaracterized.”
UPDATE, Sept. 19, 2012: In an unedited version of the video released Wednesday, Romney says that a two-state solution is “wistful thinking” but does allow that peace is possible if Palestinians are shown “American strength, American resolve.” In the extended version, he added, “I always keep open: the idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up to get the Palestinians to act is the worst idea in the world. We have done that time and time and time again. It does not work. So the only answer is show them strength. American strength, American resolve, and the Palestinians will some day reach the point where they want peace more than we’re trying to force peace on them. Then it’s worth having the discussion. So until then, it’s just wistful thinking.”