Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told campaign donors that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is going to “remain an unsolved problem” and that pressuring Israel to make concessions to get the Palestinians to act “is the worst idea in the world.”
The Palestinians are “committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel” and are uninterested in peace, Romney said in a video from a private fundraiser in May posted yesterday by Mother Jones magazine.
In the video, Romney discounted the prospects for Middle East peace between Israel and the Palestinians, a goal that has been sought for decades by presidents from both parties.
“You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem,” Romney said. “And we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Romney was offering the “wrong approach,” and the top Palestinian diplomat in Washington said Romney shows “complete ignorance of facts and realities.”
Romney said that a former U.S. secretary of state, whom he didn’t name, had told him that there was a chance for a “settlement” after the Palestinians hold elections. “I said, ‘Really?’ And, you know, his answer was, ‘Yes, I think there’s some prospect.’ And I didn’t delve into it,” Romney said.
Romney said the problems of borders, Israeli security and other elements in the peace process are “very hard to solve.”
“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,” Romney said in the video, which Mother Jones said was recorded May 17, at a $50,000 per-plate fundraiser at the home of private-equity executive Marc Leder in Boca Raton, Florida.
Romney did not explain or elaborate on his foreign policy comments during an interview yesterday on Fox News.
The former Massachusetts governor “laid out a detailed description of the many difficult issues that must be solved in order to reach a two-state solution,” Andrea Saul, a Romney campaign spokeswoman said in an e-mail. “Governor 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.”
Romney’s comments will limit his ability to fault President Barack Obama’s handing of the Israeli-Palestinian tensions, said Richard Armitage, former U.S. deputy secretary of state under George W. Bush.
“It’s difficult to criticize the president and his Middle East policy on the one hand, and then suggest, on the other hand, that the best you can do is kick the ball down the street,” Armitage said in a telephone interview yesterday.
On Sept. 17, the magazine posted a video of Romney saying “there are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.” He referred to them as government dependents who feel they’re entitled to health care, food, housing and other programs. The video was obtained by Mother Jones magazine from a person it didn’t identify.
Romney told reporters during an evening news conference on Sept. 17 that his comments calling many Americans “victims” dependent on government weren’t “elegantly stated.” He stopped short of disavowing remarks that emerged as a fresh distraction to his campaign.
Obama, during an interview scheduled for broadcast last night on CBS’s “Late Show With David Letterman,” disputed Romney’s economic assertions.
There are “not a lot of people out there who think they are victims,” the president said in New York. Americans don’t want a president who is “writing off a big chunk of the country,” he said.
Obama, who didn’t address foreign policy, has pressed for a two-state solution in the Middle East, a course embraced by presidents from both parties.
“It is simply the wrong approach to say we can’t do anything about it so we’ll just kick it down the field; that’s not leadership,” Carney said. Peace is in the best interests of Israelis and Palestinians, and “this president will continue to pursue it,” he said.
Aaron David Miller, who was a Middle East peace negotiator for President Bill Clinton, said the odds of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement “are almost slim to none.”
“I don’t care if it’s Obama or Romney,” he said. “The question is what you do about it.”
Romney’s comment “differentiates him from others, like Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, who had greater aspirations and interest in this matter,” said Miller, a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington policy group.
“Regardless of what his personal views are, he will have to take this issue more seriously,” Miller said. “Does that mean he’ll devote a lot of time to it? No. George W. Bush didn’t devote a lot of time to it.”
Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, chief representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization delegation in Washington, said Romney’s remarks in the video “once again show complete ignorance of facts and realities” in the peace process.
“Romney’s allegations that Palestinians are committed to the destruction of Israel are baseless given the fact that Palestinians have expressed support for the two-state solution, and repeatedly recognized Israel’s right to exist,” Areikat said in an e-mailed comment yesterday.
“The best way the Republican nominee can help in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is by adhering to long-standing U.S. policy regarding an acceptable solution that will lead to the end of military occupation of Palestine, peace, and security,” he said.
Romney’s comment may feed into a sense that the Republican Party “is tightly aligned” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, Stephen Grand, director of the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said in an interview.
On another matter, Romney raised the potential for Iran to use the Lebanon-based Shiite group Hezbollah, which the U.S. and Israel label a terrorist group, to send a so-called dirty bomb to an American city. A dirty bomb is a conventional explosive coupled with radioactive material that would contaminate a large area.
“If I were Iran, if I were Iran -- a crazed fanatic, I’d say let’s get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we’ll just say, ‘Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we’re going to let off a dirty bomb.’ I mean this is where we have -- where America could be held up and blackmailed by Iran, by the mullahs, by crazy people,” he said. “So we really don’t have any option but to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon.”
Ellen Tauscher, a former Democratic House member who recently stepped down as a special envoy and undersecretary of state for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, questioned Romney’s knowledge about dirty bombs, because it’s possible to make such a device from radioactive hospital waste and doesn’t require rare fissile material, the fuel for a nuclear bomb.
The ability of terrorists to make one doesn’t depend on fissile material from a state-sponsored nuclear program, said Tauscher, co-chair of new Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council, a Washington policy group.