RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The Palestinian president watched from the sidelines Sunday as presidential hopeful Mitt Romney bonded with Israel's leaders in a visit seen by many in the West Bank as an attempt to boost his domestic Jewish support at their expense.
Romney did not request a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, even though his West Bank compound is just 30 minutes by car from the candidate's Jerusalem hotel.
"This is his choice," Abbas aide Nimr Hamad said of Romney's decision to skip the West Bank during an Israel visit that began late Saturday and ends Monday.
Instead, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad traveled to Romney's hotel on Sunday for a meeting.
Palestinian officials declined to be drawn out about the West Bank no-show, suggesting that despite Romney's strong pro-Israel stand, they don't want to stir up tensions with a man who could one day have great influence over their statehood aspirations.
West Bank officials said the main point of Romney's visit is to win the support of Jewish voters in the U.S. "He (Romney) did not come here because he believes that would harm his chances," Hamad said.
Romney's staff said the candidate had time for only one meeting with a Palestinian official.
By contrast, the atmosphere was friendly when Romney met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday. The body language was relaxed, Netanyahu addressed his visitor as "Mitt" — a casual reference even for informal Israel — and he did not adopt the lecturing tone he has used with Romney's rival, President Barack Obama.
The two political conservatives share a worldview, and for Netanyahu, Romney's embrace of the Israeli government has been a welcome change from Obama's criticism.
A campaign stop in Israel appears to have become the norm for U.S. presidential candidates. Both Obama and then-rival John McCain made the trip four years ago. Obama found time to meet with Abbas, while Republican McCain also snubbed the Palestinian leader.
Fayyad, a U.S.-educated economist, said before Sunday's meeting that he planned to lay out the Palestinian positions on Mideast peace efforts. As prime minister, Fayyad is responsible for the day-to-day lives of Palestinians but does not play a role in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The talks broke off in 2008.
Abbas and Netanyahu disagree sharply over the conditions for renewing the talks. Abbas says he will return to the table only if Israel freezes settlement construction on occupied lands and accepts the pre-1967 war cease-fire line as a baseline for border talks, arguing that after two decades of fruitless negotiations, there's no point in talking without a clear framework.
Netanyahu refuses to halt settlement building or recognize the 1967 line as a reference, insisting that talks should proceed without preconditions.
Abbas' refusal to resume talks on Netanyahu's terms has strained his relations with the Obama administration.
There was no immediate word on the content of the Fayyad-Romney meeting.
The Republican candidate used a photo opportunity with the Palestinian prime minister to try to smooth over a gaffe he committed in London, the first stop of his foreign tour, where he criticized London's preparations for the Olympics.
Fayyad just returned from London, and Romney seized that as an opening to gush about the Olympics.
"An entertaining and delightful opening ceremony. Wasn't it spectacular?" the candidate said. "It really was. And the march of nations. There were many participants. And they sent women from every country."
Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Ramallah and Amy Teibel in Jerusalem contributed reporting.