NEW YORK — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been assailed for saying at a fundraiser in Jerusalem that “culture” plays a large part in Israel’s superior “economic vitality” over the Palestinians, just as it does “between other countries that are near or next to each other — Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.”
For this commonsensical statement of the obvious, he has been pilloried, not least by the Palestinian Authority’s Saeb Erekat, who described his remarks as “racist.”
There was, of course, no reference in Gov. Romney’s comparison of Israel and the Palestinians to religion or ethnicity, let alone race. He referred to culture, which indeed makes a major difference, in this case and the others he cited. He rightly noted that this has produced widely divergent results in economic performance between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Israel has a culture of private enterprise, research, innovation and technological development. In contrast, the Palestinian Authority has been bedeviled from its inception with crony capitalism, endemic corruption, distortions of the market and other malpractices, which also affect its economy in drastic ways, not least in the loss of foreign investor confidence.
Israeli society is characterized by religious, economic and personal freedom. By contrast, the Palestinian Authority is unsafe for political dissidents as well as religious and sexual minorities. For example, Bethlehem, under P.A. control since 1995, has seen its traditionally Christian (and entrepreneurial) population dwindle to about 15 percent. In Hamas-controlled Gaza, there has been an even swifter flight of Christians. And Palestinian gays who wish to live without fear of death or imprisonment often have only one option: refuge in Israel.
It makes sense that a society with Israel’s open and broadly liberal culture would be more stable and thus retain and attract foreign investment and better educated, entrepreneurial people.
But above all, Palestinian culture is also afflicted with incitement to hatred and murder, glorification of violence and terror. One has to look only at P.A. television programs, radio broadcasts and newspaper articles to see that it is the terrorist, not the entrepreneur, who is honored. The Palestinian Authority doesn’t name streets, schools and sports teams after scientists and inventors. It names them after suicide bombers and jailed terrorists.
In the Palestinian Authority, public squares, a computer center, a summer camp and several events have been named in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, a revered figure in Palestinian society who led the terrorists who carried out the 1978 coastal road terrorist attack on an Israeli bus, murdering 37 people, including a dozen children. There are literally scores of similar, documented examples.
Many will recall that Palestinian enthusiasm for terrorism extends beyond Israel to the United States, of which those Americans who saw on their television screens Palestinians celebrating the 9/11 attacks need no reminder.
There is also no merit to Mr. Erekat’s objection that the Palestinian Authority cannot perform well because it is under “occupation.” The facts repudiate this shop-worn, opportunistic charge. Before the Palestinian Authority was established — in other words, when the areas now controlled by the Palestinian Authority were under Israeli control — economic growth was steady and rising among Palestinians. But economic performance tapered off immediately after the Palestinian Authority assumed control in 1994, following the Oslo Accords, and all the attendant problems mentioned earlier came into play.
Even then, the Palestinian Authority was doing better in the mid-1990s than it was to do after 2000, when it launched a terrorist war against Israel. Naturally, joint projects, Israeli (and much foreign) investment thereupon dried up and the resultant hostilities destroyed or damaged much infrastructure. One can have war, but one can rarely have war and development. The Israeli economy also suffered from this war but, because of the general soundness of Israel’s economic culture, it recovered much more quickly once Palestinian terrorism was brought under control.
So Mr. Erekat’s predictably absurd criticism of Gov. Romney’s “racist” statement can be dismissed for what it is: a fit of pique leveled against an outsider for embarrassing the Palestinian Authority by stating the obvious truth, a truth that undermines the metronomically invoked Palestinian alibi of “occupation.” As the philosopher Eric Hoffer once observed, “There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life.”
(Morton A. Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America, Dr. Michael Goldblatt is ZOA national chairman of the board and Dr. Daniel Mandel is the director of the ZOA’s Center for Middle East Policy.)