Mitt Romney speaks at an event in Jerusalem on July 29, 2012. (ALEX KOLOMOISKY/AFP/GettyImages)
By Catalina Camia, USA TODAY
(USA TODAY) - Mitt Romney reportedly has angered Palestinians with his comments about their economy and his pledge to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
"What is this man doing here?" Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told the Associated Press about Romney.
"Yesterday, he destroyed negotiations by saying Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and today he is saying Israeli culture is more advanced than Palestinian culture. Isn't this racism?" Erekat said.
The White House has said the status of Jerusalem "should be resolved in final status negotiations" between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Romney is heading to Poland today for the third, and last, leg of his overseas tour. He raised more than $1 million at a fundraising event at Jerusalem's King David hotel and outlined an aggressive stance toward Iran in a speech yesterday.
Palestinians want to establish a capital in East Jerusalem, which has been in Israeli control since the 1967 war -- along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This morning, Romney's comments to Jewish donors about the Palestinian economy appeared to touch a nerve:
I was thinking this morning as I prepared to come into this room of a discussion I had across the country in the United States about my perceptions about differences between countries. And as you come here and you see the GDP per capita for instance in Israel which is about 21,000 dollars and you compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority which is more like 10,000 dollars per capita, you notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.
In his remarks at the fundraiser, Romney also reflected on books he's read by Jared Diamond, David Landes and his adviser Dan Senor to help him better understand Israel. The Landes book, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, helped him understand decline in great civilizations, he said.
"If you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it's this: culture makes all the difference," Romney said about his takeaway from the Landes book.
Israel has had a blockade of the Gaza Strip in place since 2007, since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized the territory, which has affected the growth of the Palestinian economy. Israel allowed more food and non-military items into Gaza in 2010.
During his speech yesterday in Jerusalem, Romney drew applause from his audience when he said he was "deeply" moved to be in Jerusalem. He pledged during a CNN interview to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- something the past three U.S. presidents have declined to do while in office.
Erekat said Romney's comments about Jerusalem were "absolutely unacceptable."
The White House issued a statement yesterday saying the Obama administration continues to work on resolving the issue of the U.S. Embassy "and others in a way that is just and fair, and respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians."
Romney met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad during his trip to Israel, but did not meet with Abbas.