After Israel, Romney Leaves Controversy In His Wake

Mitt Romney is now in Poland, on the third leg of his overseas tour. But before he left Israel this morning, comments made at a fundraiser upset members of the Palestinian leadership. Romney was discussing the gulf between the per capita GDP of Israel and the GDP of areas managed by the Palestinian Authority. He pointed out that some economic historians have theorized that "culture makes all the difference." Some have called his remarks "racist." The campaign says Romney's words were taken out of context.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish. Mitt Romney flew out of Israel this morning for Poland, the final leg of his foreign trip, but before he left, he held an early morning fundraiser in Jerusalem. Comments Romney made there and in a speech yesterday have upset many Palestinians.

From Jerusalem, Sheera Frenkel tells us more.

SHEERA FRENKEL, BYLINE: Romney's campaign appeared pleased with their morning fundraiser at the King David Hotel. Organizers say the event raised approximately one million dollars for the Romney campaign, but Palestinian leaders say it was the final straw in a series of what they call upsetting comments made by Romney.

During the fundraiser, Romney spoke to donors, including billionaire casino magnet Sheldon Adelson. Romney said that the per capita GDP of Israel was twice as high as the per capita GDP of areas managed by the Palestinian authority. Romney even added that, according to one economic historian, culture makes all the difference.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat condemned the remarks as racist. He pointed out that Romney had gotten his numbers wrong. Erekat cited a World Bank report, which blamed Israel's military occupation of the West Bank for the low Palestinian GDP.

Romney's campaign said that his comments had been taken out of context and that he had also compared the economies of neighboring countries, like the U.S. and Mexico.

Over the weekend, Romney held only one meeting with a Palestinian official. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad joked with Romney about the Olympics. That was the only topic the two discussed in the presence of reporters. On Sunday evening during his main address, Romney surprised Palestinians with another remark.

MITT ROMNEY: It's a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.

FRENKEL: Romney also said in an interview with CNN, if elected, he would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in consultation with Israel. Current U.S. policy does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The U.S. maintains a consulate office in Jerusalem, but keeps its embassy in Tel Aviv. In peace talks, Palestinians have called East Jerusalem to be the capital of their proposed future state.

Speaking to NPR by phone, Palestinian negotiator Erekat said it was clear that Romney lacked knowledge of the region. For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel.

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