Jewish Leaders Weigh in on Romney’s Mideast Comments
Mitt Romney’s now infamous “47 percent” fundraising video, which was made public by Mother Jones, not only dissed nearly half the country, but included other controversial remarks, including comments on Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Asked by a donor how to solve the “Palestinian problem,” the Republican presidential candidate said that Palestinians have “no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.” Further on, he added, “You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem…and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”
Reporter Stewart Ain gathered reaction in the Jewish Week :
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has described what many Israelis believe is a fact of life. But there is significant debate here about whether such a hands-off U.S. policy, as bluntly stated, is viable or preferred.
Ain followed with comments from both sides of whether Romney’s approach is “viable or preferred.”
Although Romney’s assessment — during a private fundraiser in May — of the Palestinians willingness to negotiate “suggests he is correct,” according to Doron Ben-Atar, a professor of history at Fordham University, “the status quo is untenable as well.
“Romney’s approach could be realistic, but it is a very bad approach for a president or any policymaker,” he argued. “To be sure, the Obama administration botched things in the first year or two and bought into the narrative that we have to bully Israel. But the Romney approach of doing nothing is even worse.”
But Hillel Frisch, an expert on Israeli-Palestinian relations, said Romney was “speaking the truth” and that it is “very hard to believe you can really do much on the Palestinian front since they [the Palestinians] are divided.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, the senior rabbi at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan, pointed out that Romney’s comments “lumped all Palestinians together.” Rabbi Hirsch acknowledged that while part of the Palestinian leadership was not interested in sitting down and talking, “we should be pressing the Palestinians to exercise true leadership and bring their people around to the position of [Palestinian Prime Minister] Salam Fayyad and build [your society].” He continued:
“Nobody —not supporters of Israel or the American government— can give up on the day-to-day search for peace.” Rabbi Hirsch stressed. “This is for religious and communal reasons, as well as diplomacy and politics. If you give up, you create a vacuum that extremists come into. You have to have a peace context through which those interested in peace can pursue it. …
Alon Ben-Meir, an international relations professor at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University, believes that this issue may not last long as it does nothing to help either candidate.
“Obama won’t bring it up because this is an issue that does not sit well with evangelicals,” he said. “He would say that compromise is necessary and that would mean pressure on Israel, which would not sit well with Jewish voters in swing states like Florida where the Jewish vote matters.
“And it is not to Romney’s advantage to hammer at this issue because there are many Israelis who are questioning how much longer this situation will go on. More than half of Israelis want a settlement. And telling the Israeli government not to worry and that you can continue what you want to do because there is no prospect for peace will enrage the Palestinians. We see this already. It is making Israeli conservatives even more aggressive in their policies, particularly when it comes to the settlement issue. So it’s a no-win for Romney.”
In related news, an article last week in the Huffington Post looks at Romney’s changing position on issues concerning Muslims and Arabs, especially in light of the above comments.
Unlike some prominent members of the Republican Party, Romney hasn’t had a particularly contentious relationship with the Muslim community. But his rhetoric has grown more aggressive during the course of his political career and this campaign, personified last week by the firm stance against any U.S. official “apologizing” for “The Innocence of Muslims,” an anti-Islamic video.