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Romney Video Remarks On Palestinian Peace Process Stir Outcry From Negotiators

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Mitt Romney speaks to reporters about the secretly taped video, including his remarks on the Palestinian peace process. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Mitt Romney speaks to reporters about the secretly taped video, including his remarks on the Palestinian peace process. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney's secretly videotaped description of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement as hopeless during a fundraiser earlier this year has prompted strong outcry from participants in the negotiations, including many who said ending the talks may hurt Israel the most.

"I look at ... these thorny issues, and I say, 'There's just no way,'" Romney said on the videotape, filmed at a private event in May and published early Tuesday by Mother Jones. "And so what you do is you say, 'You move things along the best way you can.' You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem. We live with that in China and Taiwan. All right, we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it."

The idea that the peace process is exceedingly difficult and perhaps even stalled is not one that many would disagree with. But several former negotiators told The Huffington Post that describing it in this way makes things worse.

"I'm a big believer in not creating a false set of expectations, but I'm also a believer in that if you think something is stuck, you come up with an approach and try to change the dynamic," said Dennis Ross, a former Middle East peace negotiator and policy adviser for President Barack Obama and former president Bill Clinton who is now a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "If you basically just say it's all hopeless, you just make hopelessness a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Ross was considered to have been the primary advocate of the Israeli perspective within the Obama administration. His decision to leave the administration late last year for a job that precludes him from campaigning for the president has been perceived by many as a sign of disaffection with Obama's tough approach with the Israeli government in the peace process.

"I don't think we would want to convey an approach that says there is nothing to be done," Ross said, when asked to venture into political analysis of Romney's remarks. "If you say there's nothing to be done, you're going to find it very difficult to sustain stability."

Romney has frequently criticized Obama for his hard approach with the Israeli leadership over the peace process, and for supposedly creating distance between the U.S. and its Middle East allies. Romney's remarks in the private gathering seemed designed to appeal to the strong pro-Israel vote in the U.S., but they contradict his previous comments and add to a portrait of diplomatic disarray that Romney would have to navigate if elected.

Romney has said in the past that he believes in a two-state solution -- an Israeli-run nation side-by-side with a Palestinian one. The Republican platform approved in Tampa, Fla., earlier this month specifically called for a two-state solution.

Several analysts told HuffPost on Tuesday that Romney's description of the peace process as intractable was not far from the truth.

"To me, the idea that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement may not be possible is simply an acknowledgement of reality," said Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. peace negotiator now a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. "In my view, the emperor has been seen to have no clothes on this issue for quite a number of years."

But Miller said that many presidents tend to find themselves in crisis management when it comes to Israel and Palestine, even if they set out with grand ambitions.

George W. Bush "said he wanted to put this in a box until success in Iraq made it easier to solve -- that was clearly an illusion," Miller continued. "Obama came out charging with the wrong approach and no clear strategy, and he managed not only to piss off the Israelis, but pissed off the Palestinians at this point as well."

Romney, he guessed, would veer toward the low end of engagement -- "what I would call benign neglect" -- but "even Romney would have to find some way of management."

In the fundraiser video, Romney specifically lays the blame for the process's failure on the Palestinians, who he said had "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace" and were "committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel."

In a statement on Tuesday, Maen Rashid Areikat, the Palestinian Liberation Organization's ambassador to the U.S., said Romney's remarks "show complete ignorance of facts and realities."

"Nobody needs peace more than the Palestinians who have endured exile and Israeli military occupation for more than six decades," Areikat said. "Romney’s allegations that Palestinians are committed to the destruction of Israel are baseless given the fact that Palestinians have expressed support for the two-state solution, and repeatedly recognized Israel’s right to exist."

Several negotiators and analysts told HuffPost that without a semblance of a peace process, Israel's options are greatly reduced.

"Of course the peace process is dead -- totally dead," said Daniel Levy, a former negotiator in the Israeli government of Ehud Barak, now co-director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation. "But if you officially declare the peace process is dead, you encourage what is already an existing if not growing part of the Palestinian side that says, well, forget it, let's have equal rights, or one state, or a full-on boycott of Israel -- all of which might be wise from Palestinian perspective, but none are going to be helpful from an American perspective."

Last year, when the Palestinian leadership turned to the United Nations in an attempt to achieve statehood, the primary argument against the move by the U.S. and Israel was that one side should not attempt a resolution "unilaterally," outside the existing negotiations.

"I do think the process is stalled and without a strong U.S. role, the process will not go forward," said Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian foreign minister now vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ""If there is not a two-state solution, then the demographics are clear: Israel is in trouble."

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