Maybe it wasn’t the politically adept thing to say at the time and place, but Mitt Romney won some points with me and no doubt others in his truthful remarks on his trip abroad about the comparative cultures of Israel and Palestine and what this means in terms of the welfare of their respective people. He had the comparative GDP numbers wrong, but here is what he said in a speech in Israel about the reason for the significant disparity in economic vitality: “If you can learn anything from the economic history of the world, it’s this–culture makes all the difference. You notice a stark difference in economic vitality between Israel and the Palestinians. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”
And in so saying, he cited the book on this subject by David Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, which spells out in detail the cultural attributes that define and are necessary for economic success as well as those that hinder it. And in the latter case for the entire Arab world, those were outlined in painful detail by a team of Arab intellectuals in a 2002 United Nations report which essentially paralleled the Landes findings. With the possible exception of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share an island, probably no two peoples in close proximity better illustrate the divergence of these attributes and the difference it makes in higher relief than do Israel and Palestine. And in both instances it is all about the culture.
Of course Romney’s remarks drew an immediate response from the “Palestinians as victims” hustlers, led by a senior Palestinian official who labeled the comments “racist” and accused Romney of damaging U. S. efforts to restore America’s standing in the Muslim and Arab world. There were also criticisms by a former Israeli official who bemoaned the damage to the “peace process”.
These criticisms are nonsense and, in fact, are a disservice to large numbers of Palestinians, particularly the well-educated entrepreneurs and energetic workers who know that they and their people are being ill-served by their leaders. There is no peace process and will not and should not be one until we start with the truth about the respective cultures of these two peoples and the political history and geography of the Israeli/Palestinian relationship and begin to dispel the myriad of myths that surround this conflict. A couple of years ago, I reviewed The World Turned Upside Down, by Melanie Phillips, which describes and debunks much of this mythology very well. It’s a good place to start, but in the meantime I applaud Mitt Romney for moving the truth to center stage. We need more of that.