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After offending Palestinians by suggesting that Israelis were wealthier because of their "culture," Mitt Romney has insisted he wasn't casting aspersions.
Mitt Romney has sought to mitigate some of the outrage he caused by suggesting that Israelis enjoyed better economic circumstances than Palestinians because of their "culture."
In an interview with Fox News aired today, the Republican presidential candidate said he hadn't said anything about "the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy."
"That's an interesting topic that perhaps could deserve scholarly analysis but I actually didn't address that," Romney told Fox's Carl Cameron, on the Poland leg of his foreign trip. "I certainly don't intend to address that during my campaign.
"Instead I will point out that the choices a society makes have a profound impact on the economy and the vitality of that society."
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That argument is unlikely to appease Palestinians, who argue that they have been prevented from making choices about their own economy and society by the Israeli government.
"This man doesn't realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation," Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told the Associated Press in response to Romney's original remarks.
At a breakfast fundraiser in Jerusalem yesterday morning, Romney favorably compared Israeli GDP to Palestinian GDP and went on to tell donors: "Culture makes all the difference."
He acknowledged that "a few other things," including the "hand of providence," were also behind Israel's prosperity.
Romney did not talk about Palestinian culture. Nor, as the AP pointed out, did he talk about the fact that Israel has controlled the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem since 1967, and maintains a blockade on its border with Gaza.
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To those who accuse him of ignorance, clumsiness or even racism, Romney says that's not the issue. Critics will "try and find anything else to divert from the fact that these last four years have been tough years for our country," he told Cameron.
As Romney boarded a flight home, his campaign team were also seeking to divert attention from the heavily criticized foreign trip to domestic issues.
"It" – the trip? the criticism? the blundering? – "means absolutely nothing to the people at home because it has no relevance to their life," strategist Stu Stevens is quoted by CBS News as saying. "It doesn't matter."