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Mitt Romney’s ‘gaffe’ is nothing of the sort

19 September 2012

3:06 PM

19 September 2012

3:06 PM

The papers today are full of the latest alleged ‘gaffe’ by Mitt Romney. It has become a staple of US election coverage that any Democrat’s foreign policy fumble is a ‘mis-speak’ while any Republican saying something even mildly contentious – as opposed to wrong – is a world-class clanger which shows them to be unfit for office.

Today’s Romney ‘gaffe’ relates to his reported comments on the Middle East. This is not exactly a region in which the Obama administration has covered itself in glory.  But even as Obama’s policy failings are being felt, it is Romney who is being lambasted for, among other things, his claim that ‘the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace.’

There have been the usual smirks about this, largely rooted in the idea that the Palestinians are made up of two completely different factions: 1) Hamas, who for the purposes of this argument are regarded as a bit extreme: 2) the nice moderates of Fatah who are the peacemakers.

The complexities of Palestinian politics are too great for a single answer in a Q and A or indeed a blogpost. But Romney did not get to his conclusion from nowhere. It is possible, for instance, that he has followed the career of the Fatah leader and PA Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas.

Very little in his biography suggests that he is a man of peace. And alas the problem continues. How to explain this, for instance, from Palestinian Media Watch, earlier this year:

‘PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas sent a condolence telegram to the family of the killed terrorist Abu Aram, in which he called him “pure of heart.” The soldier’s act of shooting the terrorist who tried to kill him was defined by Abbas as an “assassination.” The official PA daily referred to the soldier’s self-defense as a “loathsome crime,” while the attempted stabbing of the Israeli soldier was called “legitimate struggle.”

A few days later, Mahmoud Abbas sent his personal representative, Abbas Zaki, to visit the families of both terrorists and to express the leadership’s “solidarity.” Zaki said that the death of Aram was “cold-blooded murder” and “expressed the pride of the Palestinian leadership in this generation and in this heroism.”’

You may disagree with Romney. You may see absolutely masses of evidence that the PA or Fatah are dedicated to the peace process. Or you may believe, as I do, that those Palestinians who are genuinely interested in peace, and recognise the right of a Jewish state to exist alongside a Palestinian state, are – at the very least – exceptionally badly represented at the moment.

But Romney’s point of view is not a gaffe. It is a conclusion anybody might legitimately draw. The fact that the Republican candidate refuses to join many Europeans and Democrats in mistaking hope for analysis is something he should be congratulated on, rather than ridiculed for.

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