JERUSALEM Mitt Romneys policy speech in Israel covered plenty of bases: The presumptive Republican presidential candidate spoke about the status of Jerusalem, the threat of a nuclear Iran, the tumult of the Arab Spring and the enduring shared values that bedrock the US-Israel relationship.
But there was one topic that gained little attention: Israels conflict with the Palestinians. The word Palestinian did not appear once in the speech on Sunday evening, July 29.
Aside from a short meeting with PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the status of the Palestinians was basically absent from Romneys swing through Israel on Sunday and Monday, July 29-30.
He did not meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who has led the most recent rounds of Israeli-Palestinian talks, and he mentioned support for a two-state solution only briefly at the end of a statement with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Romneys campaign also canceled a meeting with Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich a few hours in advance. Labor traditionally has been more supportive of negotiations with the Palestinians than the ruling Likud Party.
During the primary campaign, Romney joined his fellow GOP candidates in slamming the Obama administrations public criticism of Israeli settlement policy. But he also criticized Newt Gingrichs assertion that the Palestinians were an invented people, suggesting that such talk was a mistake and incendiary.
President Obamas Israel policy during his first two years focused on an aggressive push for Israeli-Palestinian talks, along with a demand that Israel freeze all settlement construction in the West Bank.
Subsequent negotiations stalled, and the demand for a freeze created significant tension between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
THE Palestinians were the main issue for Obama, said Shmuel Sandler, a researcher at Israels Begin-Sadat Center. Romney, by contrast, put the emphasis on Iran and Jerusalem. This was a way of differentiating himself from Obama.
Sandler said that Romney, if elected, would follow four consecutive presidents, of both parties, who led major drives for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Shlomo Brom, a senior research associate at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, suggested that despite Romneys near silence on the Palestinians, he may still follow suit.
The way people act in elections doesnt predict what will be afterwards, Brom said. Romney doesnt have a constituency in the US thats interested in the subject of the Palestinians.
But with peace negotiations moribund for nearly two years, Brom said that Romney emphasizing the threat of a nuclear Iran and the Arab Spring also accords with what many Israelis see as the two most important issues facing the region.
Romney called denying Iran nuclear weapons our highest national security priority, and earlier on Sunday his adviser, Dan Senor, said that a Romney administration would back a unilateral Israeli strike on Irans nuclear facilities.
Romney also called on Egypts new president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, to keep Egypts peace treaty with Israel and admonished Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom he called no friend to Israel and no friend to America, for killing his own citizens.
Sandler added that most Israelis at this point realize that theres not going to be a peace soon.
He attributed that realization to fundamental gaps between Israel and the PA on the status of Palestinian refugees, the fate of Israeli settlement blocs close to the West Bank border and whether eastern Jerusalem will be under Israeli or Palestinian sovereignty.
WHILE Romney mostly kept away from the Palestinian issue in public, in private it did come up. During his Sunday speech at a closed fundraiser, he reportedly credited Israels GDP being much higher than that of the Palestinians to the power of at least culture and a few other things, including a strong pro-business climate, the travails of overcoming Jewish historys blows and the hand of providence.
Saeb Erakat, a senior aide to Abbas, pounced on the comments.
It is a racist statement and this man doesnt realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation, he said, according to AP.
Erekat also said it was absolutely unacceptable when Romney called Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
Regardless of whether Romney spoke to the Israeli publics concerns or the general positive response of Israels leaders, about a dozen Israelis in a Tel Aviv pedestrian mall had a vague idea at best of who he was.
Is he Jewish? asked Esther Abnayim, 48, echoing a question a few others also asked. America is Israels friend. Israel helps America. It doesnt matter what the presidents party is, she said.
Meni, 26, said he doesnt pay attention to what happens over there in the US, while Daniela Cohen, 33, said she had heard only about Romneys fundraising breakfast on Monday morning.