The Politics of Fear

Evan Vucci/AP/Corbis
Mitt Romney arriving to deliver his foreign policy address at Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, October 8, 2012

Ramallah, Palestine

Amid the clamorous controversies of this election campaign, what strikes one here on the West Bank of the Jordan is the silences. Though the issue of Palestine promises to have a much more vital part in the volatile, populist politics of the Middle East’s new democracies—whose vulnerable governments actually must take some account of what moves ordinary people—here in Ramallah we have heard virtually nothing substantive about it, apart, that is, from Mitt Romney’s repeated charge that President Obama, presumably in extracting from Israel a hard-fought ten-month freeze on settlement building early on in his administration, had “thrown Israel under the bus.”

In fact, the West Bank is perhaps the place on the globe that has seen the least of President Obama’s promised “change you can believe in.” Nearly fifty years after Israel conquered the territories, its young soldiers are still on patrol, herding millions of Palestinians through and around an increasingly elaborate labyrinth of checkpoints, walls, and access roads, while Israeli settlers, now numbering in all more than half a million, flow over the hills, swelling their gated and fortified towns, creating one “fact on the ground” after another. Even as the land of the long-promised Palestinian state vanishes behind these barricades, the phrase “two-state solution” lives on, hovering like a ghost over the settlements, a remnant mirage of a permanently moribund “peace process” that has produced no agreement of consequence in twenty years, since the Oslo Accords vowed a Palestinian state would be declared no later than 1999.

Governor Romney’s own view of how to achieve Middle East peace is decidedly more modest—indeed, almost Buddhist in its fatalism. As he told guests at the now-infamous Boca Raton “47 percent” fund-raiser:

You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that it’s going to remain an unsolved problem…. And we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.

Whatever that “something” that will “somehow…happen” might be, it will presumably not come at the initiative of a Romney administration, since, as the governor went on, “The idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up, to get the Palestinians to act, is the worst idea in the world.”1

Since this attitude mirrors that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the governor’s former colleague at Bain Capital, it would seem to accord perfectly with Romney’s vow that “the world must never see any daylight between” the US and Israel. Five months after he made these statements, after his return as “ol’ moderate Mitt” in the first debate, Governor Romney declared that he would “recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel”2—a “goal” Prime Minister…

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