All’s fair in love, war and politics. So it is to be expected that Jewish Democrats desirous of President Obama’s re-election will be doing their best to perpetuate the idea that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s foreign trip this month was an unmitigated disaster. But the media narrative about his trip to Israel is one that ought to worry supporters of Israel no matter which party or candidate they support.
Romney is said to have disgraced himself by saying that if you want to understand the stark contrast between the success of Israel and the failure of the Palestinians, “Culture makes all the difference.” It was to be expected that the Palestinian Authority (PA) would attack him. But the American mainstream media has been almost as scathing in describing it as an “insult.”
While political observers will rightly put this down as just one among scores of minor skirmishes in a long presidential campaign that won’t have much impact on the final outcome, the controversy is actually quite significant in terms of what it reveals about American attitudes toward the Middle East. Far from Romney being revealed to be a foolish dabbler in foreign policy whose blunders have exacerbated an already troubled peace process, his comments were actually quite accurate about the reasons why Israel is a haven of free enterprise and the areas run by the PA are, to be charitable, a basket case. It is, instead, Romney’s critics, such as the pompous editorialists at the New York Times, who are demonstrating their profound ignorance. What’s more, it is the refusal of so many allegedly informed observers of the region, as well as American and European political figures, to admit that what Romney said was true, that is enabling the corruption and violence that continues to sink any hopes of Palestinian reform.
The fact that the key to success lies in the political and economic culture of a nation is something that has been acknowledged by virtually every credible authority on the subject. Indeed, even the United Nations’ Arab Human Development Report noted that existing cultural norms in the Arab world are a primary obstacle to progress.
Romney’s critics say he’s wrong because Israel’s “occupation” is the reason why the West Bank and Gaza are so depressed. While the continuance of the conflict because of Palestinian intransigence doesn’t help development, that is not the cause of all their problems. As anyone who has even a passing knowledge of how the PA government in the West Bank, as well as the independent Palestinian state (in all but name) that Hamas governs in Gaza, work, official corruption is the rule rather than the exception. The complete absence of the rule of law there is not the fault of Israel but of the terrorist organizations masquerading as political parties who run those places.
Instead of concentrating on fostering free enterprise and creating trust, the focus of the Fatah-run entity is the enrichment of the ruling elite and the continuance of the war on Israel. Following in the footsteps of Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies have squandered or stolen most of the billions that have been poured into these areas by the European Union and the United States.
Palestinians are not just hampered by the Arab cultural backwardness in which human rights are abused, women are discriminated against, and gays and religious minorities are persecuted. They are harmed by their own particular culture, in which rejection of the legitimacy of Israel and fomenting of hatred against Jews has given their leaders license to eschew peace and glorify violence. Anyone who ignores this truth and the need for Palestinians to undergo a cultural sea change for peace or prosperity to have a chance is doing them no favor.
The troubling aspect of this story is not whether Romney will be hurt by it, but whether friends of Israel on both sides of the political aisle will continue to avoid the truth about the Palestinians. Neither political correctness nor the political advantage that Democrats seek justifies the attacks on Romney’s remarks. Anyone who cares about peace in the Middle East—including Jewish liberals—ought to be echoing the Republican on this issue, not attacking him.
JNS Columnist Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of COMMENTARY magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com. He can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/TobinCommentary.