Romney Remark on Israeli Economy Irks Palestinians

The Republican presidential candidate, who met with Israeli leaders yesterday, drew the attention of some of his top donors to the gap in gross domestic product between the Israeli and Palestinian economies.

“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000, and you 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 dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality,” Romney told the 45 donors, who included casino executive Sheldon Adelson, at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel.

Romney’s comments followed remarks yesterday in which he outraged Palestinians by declaring that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, a status that most countries don’t recognize and the U.S., which maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv, treats as a matter for negotiations.

The Republican candidate erred on the statistics — underestimating the economic gap — with Israel’s GDP per capita about $30,000, according to the Bank of Israel, compared with about $2,000 in the West Bank, according to the World Bank.

‘Totally Unacceptable’

At the Jerusalem fundraiser, Romney praised Israel’s innovative technology and history of survival through harsh circumstances, saying he recognized the power of “culture.”

The remarks sparked criticism from Palestinian leaders.

“Romney has to remember he’s running for office in the U.S. and not in Israel,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said in a telephone interview. “His statement is totally unacceptable and far from reality.”

Romney aides pushed back against the reports, saying the candidate’s remarks had been taken out of context and misinterpreted to the Palestinians.

“It’s a story that never should have been written,” Romney strategist Stuart Stevens told reporters. “This was not in any way an attempt to slight the Palestinians and everyone knows that.”

Aides pointed to examples of when Romney had made similar comments, questioning the economic differences between other neighboring nations, including the U.S. and Mexico.

‘Prosperity Gap’

“I wondered how such vast differences could exist between countries that were literally next door to each other,” he wrote in his book, “No Apology.” “As I traveled to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South America, and to both halves of Europe that had previously been divided by the Iron Curtain, I discovered that the prosperity gap is really a canyon.”

The World Bank said in a March report that the Palestinian economy has been held back by Israeli restrictions on movement of commercial goods and declining aid from foreign donors.

Aides to President Barack Obama said Romney’s comments would have little impact on national security or foreign policy.

“There is nothing that jumps out at me that would in any way limit the president’s ability to fulfill his responsibilities as commander in chief,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters today.

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama supported a plan to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. He also told the 2008 annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that Jerusalem must “remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”

Obama later sought to clarify his remarks, after they were criticized by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The then-senator said the parties would need to negotiate the issues and, as a practical matter, it would be difficult to execute a division of the city.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv at; Lisa Lerer in Jerusalem at

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