The Palestinians are more than eager to bid Mitt Romney farewell. The US Republican presidential candidate came to Israel, pledged his allegiance, and is off again, leaving us all with a very bad aftertaste.
It is not that we Palestinians are not used to American presidential hopefuls falling over themselves trying to please Israel. Even President Barack Obama is wearing his proverbial “I Love Israel” t-shirt lately. Just one day before Romney’s visit, Obama signed off on a new law which will increase U.S. military aid to Israel. The billoffers $70 million in funding for Israel’s missile defense system, Iron Dome.
So, when Romney stood with the Old City as a backdrop and declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, no Palestinian was shocked senseless. Nevertheless, this whole competition over which American official can please Israel more is frankly, getting a bit old.
And while Romney’s meetings with Israeli officials – and he met quite a few – were splashed across newspapers and websites for days, the one meeting he did agree to with a Palestinian official was kept on the down-low. The brief meeting with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was held in Jerusalem rather than Ramallah and no details were given about what the two men talked about. While some say Romney meant to slight President Mahmoud Abbas by not meeting with him, other Palestinians say they did not expect anything more from Romney who clearly came to rally Jewish votes by cozying up to Israel.
Nevertheless, calling Jerusalem the capital of Israel was a bit too much, even for those with very little expectations. Romney was pushing the envelope, even by American standards, given that even the United States does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. On the contrary, officially, the US still considers east Jerusalem as occupied territory; Israel’s unilateral annexation has no bearing on the US’s legal discourse on the conflict.
Of course, this does not mean US presidential hopefuls fail to clamor for Israel’s affections anyway. Romney has hinted that if he reaches the Oval Office, he will finally do what so many other US presidents wanted to do but never had the gumption to pull off: move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that. Already, PLO executive committee member and negotiator SaebErekat has called Romney’s classification of Jerusalem as ‘totally unacceptable’ but is obviously trying not to accumulate a lot of bad press yet. This time, they are letting Romney – and indeed Obama – vie for Israel’s affectionswith minimal complaints by the Palestinians, not because they are happy with the situation but because they are powerless to the mighty Israel machine churning away behind the scenes of the US’s presidential elections. Some would say Prime Minister Fayyad should have passed on the Romney meeting completely, given its insincere and half-hearted nature. Romney insulted the Palestinians twice over, once by agreeing only to meet with Fayyad and then by insisting the meeting was held in west Jerusalem instead of on Palestinian turf. That should have been enough for the Palestinians to politely say “thanks but no thanks.”
In any case, what’s done is done. Right now, the bigger question is how the Palestinians should reshape their relationship with the United States, given how futile it is to view them in even the slightest light of “honest broker”. Even the likes of President Obama, who we all know is far more knowledgeable on the conflict and possible solutions, still ends up acquiescing to the mighty machine. He cannot say enough how ‘unshakeable’ the US’s relationship is with Israel or how committed he is to its security.
The point is, the dimensions of the US’s relationship with Israel and the Palestinians is not going to change drastically (at least to our favor) any time soon. The only thing that can change is how much we bank on the US helping to resolve this conflict fairly. On that note, let us suffice to say: Mitt Romney – good bye and good riddance.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.