WASHINGTON -- Days after Mitt Romney backed off his claim, made during a secretly recorded fundraiser, that 47 percent of Americans depend on the government and see themselves as victims, the Republican presidential nominee is set to soften another controversial remark he made that night.
In a heavily hyped foreign policy address at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday, Romney plans to declare his commitment to the notion of "a Democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel." According to advance excerpts of his remarks provided by the campaign, he will also knock President Barack Obama for failing to make progress on a two-state solution, instead abdicating responsibility to international institutions like the United Nations.
"In this old conflict, as in every challenge we face in the Middle East, only a new president will bring the chance to begin anew," Romney will say.
Romney is hardly the first political figure to criticize Obama for inaction on the Israel-Palestine conflict. A number of Middle East observers have expressed their frustration with the hand the president has played on this front. But the idea that Romney is eager to forge ahead with the two-state solution in a way Obama failed to do contradicts his own words.
At the private fundraiser last May, Romney characterized the peace process as a hopeless endeavor.
"I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, "There's just no way." And so what you do is you say, "You move things along the best way you can,'" Romney said, in comments that depressed longtime peace negotiators.
"I got a call from a former secretary of state," he added. "I won't mention which one it was, but this individual said to me, you know, I think there's a prospect for a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis after the Palestinian elections. I said, "Really?" And, you know, his answer was, "Yes, I think there's some prospect." And I didn't delve into it."
The Romney campaign insisted that the remarks were simply a description of the status quo, as well as a reflection of the candidate's belief that the rising influence of Hamas makes it impossible for a peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis to ever take hold. In comments that weren't contained in the first portion of the video to be released, Romney was more specific about what he thought it would take to reach an agreement, arguing that a show of brute "American strength, American resolve" could end up convincing "the Palestinians" that "they want peace more than we’re trying to force peace on them."
"Then it’s worth having the discussion," he added. "So until then, it’s just wistful thinking."
The latter line doesn't close the door on the peace process, as the first portion of the video suggests. But it does imply that Romney is deeply skeptical about its prospects.
If Romney hews to his prepared remarks on Monday, he'll be presenting himself as someone committed to that arduous process, rather than someone who thinks it is futile. It's another indication that, as the presidential campaign enters its final month, the Republican nominee is betting that he must soften his edges to win over voters.
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