JERUSALEM – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney angered Palestinian leaders 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, 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.
“Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said.