BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- US President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney mentioned the Palestinians only once and in passing in their final presidential debate Monday.
Israel came up repeatedly in the debate on foreign policy, the final face-to-face encounter between the candidates before voting in early November.
Romney accused Obama of failing Israel, which the Democrat has not visited since taking office four years ago.
Both men declared they would defend Israel if it were attacked by Iran and both vowed to pursue tough policies against Tehran's disputed nuclear ambitions and keep military action as a last resort.
The Palestinians, however, only came up in passing as Romney mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but both candidates quickly moved on to other matters.
The Palestinians "were barely mentioned, and only in passing, in a debate purportedly about foreign policy," said Yousef Munayyer of the Washington-based Palestine Center.
"Israel, on the other hand, was a major subject and the candidates competed to show who loves Israel more.
"Regardless of one’s views on the Middle East or American foreign policy it is crystal clear that the United States’ domestic politics make serious even-handed engagement in Israel-Palestinian peace impossible."
With two weeks left until Election Day, the high-stakes debate was one last chance for the candidates to appeal to millions of voters watching on television.Appealed to 'xenophobic instincts'
Palestinian-American commentator Ali Abunimah said the debate presented the worst of America.
"The debate was full of focus group-tested sound bites meant to cater to the basest and most xenophobic instincts of Americans and special interests," he said in a statement.
"It paints a portrait of an America that is paranoid and hates the world, but is ready to send drones to kill people in every corner of it.'
Snap polls declared Obama the winner, but 60 percent of people in a CNN survey said Romney was capable of being commander in chief, accomplishing a key goal set out by his advisers.
Obama criticized Romney for lacking ideas on the Middle East, mocked his calls for more ships in the US military and accused Romney of wanting to bring the United States back to a long-abandoned Cold War stance.
"On a whole range of issues, whether it's the Middle East, whether it's Afghanistan, whether it's Iraq, whether it's now Iran, you've been all over the map," Obama said.
Noura Erakat, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, perceived a disconnect about the role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in other hotspots in the region.
"The 2006 Iraq Study Group concluded that in order to achieve its objectives in the Middle East, the US must resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict by diplomatic means," Erakat said.
"Yet six years later, both major presidential candidates endorsed one-sided militarism and failed to address, with any sophistication, the root causes of the conflict and the diplomatic vigor necessary to address them.
"While their policies remain seemingly shallow and opaque, both men made clear that the US is not a peace broker in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is a part of the problem."Reuters contributed to this report.>