Enraging Palestinian officials, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich maintained his assertion that Palestinians are an invented people with no definitive right to their own state. Arabs have responded by saying that Gingrich is staging a cheap stunt to court the Jewish American vote.
But Gingrich's remarks didn't really endear him to Jewish voters. Rather, it put him at odds, with his fellow candidates -- Mitt Romney, in particular -- and also placed him in opposition to the international community and most mainstream Israelis who support the idea of an independent Palestine alongside Israel as part of a final peace agreement, The Associated Press reported. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also a proponent of an independent Palestine.
In an interview with cable TV's Jewish Channel -- some footage of which was released Friday -- the former House Speaker described the Middle East peace process as delusional.
Remember, there was no Palestine as a state, he said. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people who are, in fact, Arabs and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places.
Gingrich's remarks struck at the core of Palestinian sensitivities about the righteousness of their struggle for an independent state, the AP reported, and on Saturday, he sought to clarify his position by saying in Iowa that he does support a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, including a Palestinian state.
In Sunday night's Iowa debate, the issue touched off a heated row with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. While each tried to win the champion-for-Israel title, Romney accused Gingrich of making things difficult for America's Middle East ally by inciting the anger of the Palestinians and their supporters,
In a statement, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said that to understand what is being proposed and negotiated you have to understand decades of complex history - which is exactly what Gingrich was referencing.
Hammond's comments -- and Gingrich's clarification -- appear, however, unlikely to appease the Palestinians' anger.
From the beginning, our people have been determined to stay on their land, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said in comments reported by the Palestinian news agency, Wafa. This, certainly, is denying historical truths.