Palestinian outrage follows US politician Romney's 'racist' remarks to Israel donors

Presidential candidate suggested the Jewish culture was behind differences in wealth, outraging Palestinian leaders who called his comments racist and out of touch.

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JERUSALEM // The Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told Jewish donors yesterday that their culture was part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians, outraging Palestinian leaders who called his comments racist and out of touch.

"As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars [Dh77,135], 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," Mr Romney told about 40 wealthy donors who breakfasted at the luxurious King David Hotel.

Mr Romney did not mention the crippling restrictions that Israel imposes on Palestinian trade and movement. The reaction by Palestinian leaders was swift and pointed, as Mr Romney continued to make missteps on a three-country trip designed to bolster his foreign-policy credentials while challenging Barack Obama, the US president.

"It is a racist statement and this man doesn't realise that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation," said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

"It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people," Mr Erekat said. "He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority."

Mr Romney later said his quotes were mischaracterised.

The economic disparity between the Israelis and the Palestinians is actually much greater than Mr Romney stated. Israel had a per-capita gross domestic product of about $31,000 last year, while the West Bank and Gaza had a per capita GDP of just more than US$1,500, according to the World Bank.

"What this man is doing here is just promoting extremism, violence and hatred, and this is absolutely unacceptable," Mr Erekat said. "His statements are just rewarding the occupation and aggression."

Nabil Abu Rdeineh, a top aide to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, said Mr Romney's statements were unhelpful.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation secretary general, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said: "American policymakers must abandon hypocrisy and stop attempting to gain votes at the expense of the Palestinian people's rights."

* With additional reporting by Reuters