Although there are reasonable discussions to be had about the role of a nation’s “culture” in achieving economic prosperity, Mitt Romney, speaking in Jerusalem, managed once again to display his remarkable skill for being– how shall we put it?– undiplomatic.
…Romney angered Palestinian leaders on Monday when he suggested here that the Israeli economy had outpaced the economy of the Palestinian territories in part because of advantages of “culture.”
Palestinians said that Romney had ignored the long-running Israeli restrictions on crossings from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which they say are an enormous drag on trade.
Romney’s campaign said afterward that the remark had been misinterpreted. “This was not in any way an attempt to slight the Palestinians,” Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist, told reporters in a later stop in Gdansk, Poland. “And everyone knows that.”
Romney had said at a breakfast fundraiser that he had pondered the reasons for Israel’s huge economic advantage over the neighboring territories.
“As you come here and you see the [Gross Domestic Product] 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,” Romney said, according to a pool report.
In fact, the difference is far more stark than that. According to the World Bank, Israel’s GDP per capita is actually $31,282. The same figure for the Palestinian areas is around $1,600.
Romney said he had studied a book called “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” searching for an answer about why two neighboring places–the U.S. and Mexico, for instance, or Israel and the Palestinian areas–could have such disparate prosperity.
“Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said, repeating the conclusion he drew from that book, by David Landes. “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.”
But the thing is, Palestinian “culture” isn’t so vastly different from Jewish Israeli “culture” when it comes to valuing education. Palestinians also have a strong tradition of entrepreneurship and business ownership.
And clearly the facts on the ground make it a lot harder for a Palestinian in the territories to succeed than for an Israeli with similar skills and drive.
Surely Romney could have found a way to praise Israel’s economic achievements without comparing them insultingly to those of its neighbors.
Next stop: Poland. The possibilities are endless.
Update: Romney also praised the Israeli health care system for holding down costs and broadening coverage more successfully than the US system. Of course anything like the highly-regulated and centralized Israeli system would be anathema to Romney and his fellow Republicans here in the US.
Further update: Romney is now denying he said what many commenters praised him for saying.
Additional update: Or maybe not.