RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Mitt Romney is undermining hopes for peace and democracy in the Middle East, a senior Palestinian official said Thursday in response to recent remarks to donors by the Republican presidential candidate that Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever" in peace.
Saeb Erekat, a top aide to President Mahmoud Abbas, rejected Romney's claim.
"No one stands to gain more from peace than the Palestinians, and no one stands to lose from the absence of peace like the Palestinians," Erekat told reporters. Those who tolerated Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian territories, are "working against democracy and peace," he added.
The Palestinian official called on leaders to "create hope and opportunities, not despair." In an apparent swipe at Romney, he said, "anyone who says Arabs are not ready for democracy is a racist."
Erekat spoke ahead of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York at which Abbas is expected to present a plan to seek a "nonmember state" status for the Palestinians.
With peace talks with Israel stalled for the past four years, Palestinians have turned to the United Nations for international recognition of their sovereignty in areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war: the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
While U.N. recognition would be largely symbolic, the Palestinians believe it would send a powerful message to Israel and bolster their case in future negotiations over the territories. Israel insists a Palestinian state can only be formed through peace negotiations.
Last year, the Palestinians asked the U.N. Security Council to admit them as a full member state. They failed to receive enough votes, in part because the United States fiercely opposed their bid. Next week, they will seek the lesser status of "nonmember state" in the General Assembly, a much larger body dominated by developing countries sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
Erekat did not say when Palestinians would officially submit their application, but hinted it could be in late November, after the U.S. presidential elections.
He said he expects up to 170 countries to support the bid.
A video with Romney's comments was posted on Tuesday on the website of the magazine Mother Jones. He was asked about the "Palestinian problem."
"The Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace," Romney said. "The pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish."
The magazine said Romney made the remarks at a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida, on May 17. The video was only made public this week.
In a news conference Monday, Romney said his comments were not "elegantly stated" and were spoken "off the cuff."