Gdansk (Poland): Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stirred more hard feelings on his foreign tour on Monday when he told Jewish donors their culture was responsible for Israel`s economic success in contrast with neighbouring Palestinians.
Palestinians voiced outrage, noting Romney was ignoring Israel`s history of occupation of Palestinian lands and its stringent controls over access to the West Bank and movement of residents in the territory.
He also did not acknowledge the crippling Israeli economic blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Romney`s remarks in Israel were intended to appeal to Jewish voters in the United States, where a new Gallup Poll showed the former Massachusetts governor running a big deficit in that voting bloc.
The survey showed Obama with a 68-25 percentage point lead over the Republican challenger.
The three-country trip, Romney continued on to Poland later today, was designed to bolster his foreign policy credentials while he challenges President Barack Obama for a November election that remains centred on the struggling US economy.
In talking about Israel`s economy, Romney pointed to culture and the "hand of providence”.
"As you come here and you see the GDP (gross domestic product) per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about USD 21,000, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like USD 10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality," the candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who breakfasted at the luxurious King David Hotel.
Romney sat next to Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire US casino owner and deeply committed backer of Israel who has pledged USD 100 million to help Romney defeat Obama.
Palestinian reaction to Romney`s remarks was swift and pointed.
"It is a racist statement and this man doesn`t realise that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation," said Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"It seems to me this man (Romney) lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people," Erekat added. "He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority."