JERICHO, West Bank (AP) — Mitt Romney's assertion that Jerusalem is Israel's capital is absolutely unacceptable, a senior Palestinian official said Monday, voicing the strongest Palestinian criticism yet of the Republican presidential candidate.
Palestinian officials had largely maintained diplomatic silence during Romney's current visit to the region, even as the candidate embraced Israeli positions and in an apparent snub, avoided meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The U.S. is the dominant broker in efforts — paralyzed since 2008 — to set up a Palestinian state through negotiations with Israel, and Palestinian leaders do not want to antagonize key players, including Romney.
However, Romney's comments on Sunday about Jerusalem prompted a strong response.
The Palestinians want to establish a capital in east Jerusalem, captured and annexed by Israel in 1967. Most of the world, including the U.S., does not recognize the annexation. The U.S. and others keep their embassies in Tel Aviv.
On Sunday, Romney said flat out that Jerusalem is Israel's capital and strongly suggested he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem if he were president, supporting two key Israeli demands.
Saeb Erekat, an Abbas aide, said Romney's comments about Jerusalem were "absolutely unacceptable," adding that "such statements and policy will push the region toward extremists."
Erekat noted that Romney's positions on Jerusalem go against long-standing U.S. policy.
"At the end of the day, the U.S. has interests in this region, it has embassies in 57 Arab and Muslim countries," he said. "I don't think they will sacrifice everything for such statements, mere disturbing statements that will strengthen extremists in the region."
The fate of Jerusalem is one of the main sticking points in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will not give up any part of the city, taking a harder line than two of his predecessors who were ready to discuss a partition of the city.