US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney found himself in the heat of a decades-old political debate in Israel Wednesday after he was taped criticizing a proposed two-state solution and mocking the Palestinian interest in achieving peace with the Jewish state.
Romney’s comments at a Boca Raton fund-raiser about peace being “almost unthinkable to accomplish” were praised by the Israeli Right and residents of Judea and Samaria, and slammed by the Left.
“The Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace,” Romney said in a leaked video of the event. “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.”
“And so what you do is you say you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that it’s going to remain an unsolved problem,” he continued.
Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria chairman Dani Dayan said Romney’s viewpoint had become more common in recent years among international figures, who have started admitting publicly and not just privately that they do not believe there will be a two-state solution and are seeking other alternatives.
“He described the reality that anyone with eyes can see,” Dayan said. “More and more people around the world realize it. After 20 years of the Oslo diplomatic process, anyone who thinks two states is still possible doesn’t know what he is talking about.”
While praising Romney, Dayan issued surprising optimism about the Middle East policies in a potential second term of US President Barack Obama.
“Romney understands the Middle East better than Obama, but I think the Obama of 2012 is not the Obama of 2008,” Dayan said.
“I think Obama also understands that a deal cannot be reached, even though he might wish it wasn’t true. So even though I appreciate that Romney is saying such things out loud, I am not panicking about an Obama victory.”
By contrast, Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer expressed confidence that if Romney would win, he would follow a long line of politicians whose campaign promises and rhetoric do not match their actions when they take office.
“Romney represents [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and the Israeli Right, who are trying to remove the effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the international agenda,” Oppenheimer said.
“There is a clear connection between the Republicans and Netanyahu, who are backed by an extremist coalition of Christian evangelicals and [casino magnate] Sheldon Adelson.
“This has made the Republicans turn their back on the traditional American support for two states for two peoples, but candidates before elections and after elections are often not the same,” he said.
Asked about reports of Israeli leftists who fear a continued stalemate in the peace process if Obama is re-elected, Oppenheimer said they would still prefer Obama to Romney, despite the president’s mistakes in the diplomatic arena.
“Leftists who oppose Netanyahu can’t back Romney because of his strong connections to the prime minister,” Oppenheimer said. “With key universal non-diplomatic issues like abortion and same-sex marriage also decided in this race, the dichotomy between the Left’s views in Israel and the US is clear.”
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