The presumptive Republican U.S. presidential nominee suggested the Israeli economy is outpacing that of the Palestinians because of "the power of culture."
Speaking at a breakfast fundraiser Monday at Jerusalem's King David Hotel, Romney pointed out the difference in gross domestic product between "Israel, which is about $21,000, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across, the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality."
Statistics from the World Bank indicate the difference is actually $31,282 for Israel and $1,600 for the Palestinian areas.
Romney did not mention that Israel controls crossings to Palestinian areas, imposed a blockade in 2007 on its border with Gaza, and continues to restrict Palestinian trade and movement in the West Bank, The Washington Post noted Monday.
Romney pointed out he had read "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations" by David S. Landes, and "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond, two books that attempt to explain the influences behind the relative success or failure of adjacent countries. Diamond's book argues that physical characteristics of the land are a primary factor, while Landes suggests it is the culture of the people.
"Culture makes all the difference," Romney said. "And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things."
The comments drew immediate criticism from Palestinian officials.
"All I can say is that this man needs a lot of education," said Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Abbas who also is the Palestinians' chief negotiator. "To talk about the Palestinians as an inferior culture is really a racist statement.
"He should know that the Palestinians will never reach their economic potential under Israeli occupation, and if he doesn't know the facts he has a lot to learn. The harm he has done to American interests throughout the region is enormous."
Romney also said preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear capability should be Washington's "highest national security priority" and "no option should be excluded" in the effort.
The U.S. politician's Poland visit -- the last leg of a trip that began in London last week -- was to start in Gdansk, on the Baltic coast, where the pro-freedom Solidarity trade union federation emerged in 1980 under the leadership of Lech Wałesa.
Romney was to visit Solidarity Square at the edge of the Gdansk Shipyard, where the Solidarity movement first took hold -- a movement that ultimately contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
Poland was under Soviet Communist dominance from 1945 to 1989.
Romney was also to meet with Walesa, an electrician by trade, with no higher education, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and became the president of a free Poland in 1990.
Throughout the visit, the shadow of Reagan will loom large as another voice against Soviet oppression, McClatchy Newspapers said. A bronze statue of Reagan was unveiled this month in Gdansk's Ronald Reagan Park.
Romney was also to meet with Prime Minister Donald Tusk in Gdansk Monday and visit Westerplatte, a Gdansk peninsula where the first clash between Polish and German forces during the invasion of Poland occurred in 1939, making the first battle of the European theater of World War II.
Romney is to be in Warsaw Tuesday, where he'll deliver a speech discussing "the U.S.-Poland relationship and the values of liberty," his campaign said.