With Republican contenders for the US presidency courting Jewish and Evangelical votes, front-runner Newt Gingrich was blasted by Palestinians over the weekend for calling them an “invented” people during an interview with the Jewish Channel on Friday.
“I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons [they] have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and it’s tragic,” Gingrich said during the interview.
He blasted US President Barack Obama’s administration’s policy regarding Israel.
“I think it’s delusional to call it a peace process,” Gingrich said, referring to the 20- year-old attempts to reconcile Palestinians and Israelis. He added that both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas reflect “an enormous desire to destroy Israel.”
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“I think there’s a lot to think about in terms of how fundamentally you need to change the terms of debate in the region,” Gingrich continued. “If I’m even-handed between a civilian democracy that obeys the rule of law and a group of terrorists who are firing missiles every day, that’s not evenhanded. That’s favoring the terrorists.”
The former speaker of the US House of Representatives said he sees himself in line with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s approach of “tough-minded realism” regarding terrorists’ threats to destroy Israel.
“I believe that if somebody is firing rockets at you, they are probably not engaged in the peace process,” he said. “I believe if somebody goes around and says you don’t have a right to exist, they’re probably not prepared to negotiate for peace. I think if someone says they wanna wipe you out, you should believe them. So I see a much more tougher-minded, and much more honest approach to the Middle East in a Gingrich administration.”
Gingrich, who has a PhD in History from Tulane University, has enjoyed a recent surge in the polls, becoming the favorite candidate of right-wing Republican voters. Last Tuesday, he and Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann competed with each other on support for Israel at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s 2012 Candidates’ Forum. Both proclaimed that they would immediately relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Gingrich also held a conference call on Friday with leading US Jewish activists organized by the National Council of Young Israel, an agency body of Orthodox synagogues, during which he reiterated his condemnation of “foreign service culture” in the State Department.
He blamed this culture for the fact that former president George W. Bush failed to transfer the embassy’s location.
Palestinian representatives blasted Gingrich for his comments.
Hanan Ashrawi, a top Palestinian official, said Gingrich’s “very racist comments” showed he was “incapable of holding public office.”
Saeb Erekat, another senior official, described his comments in the interview as “despicable.”
“This is the lowest point of thinking anyone can reach,” Erekat, a close adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, told Reuters. Such comments served only to “increase the cycle of violence,” he added.
“What is the cause of violence, war in this region? Denial, denying people their religion, their existence, and now he is denying our existence,” Erekat said.
There are around 11 million Palestinians around the world, Palestinian officials say. They include refugees and their descendants who left their homes during the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel. More than 4 million of them live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, said Gingrich’s remarks hark back to days when the Palestinians’ existence as a people was denied by Israelis such as Golda Meir, prime minister from 1969 to 1974.
“It is certainly regressive,” Ashrawi said. “This is certainly an invitation to further conflict rather than any contribution to peace.
“This proves that in the hysterical atmosphere of American elections, people lose all touch with reality and make not just irresponsible and dangerous statements, but also very racist comments that betray not just their own ignorance but an unforgivable bias,” she said.
Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said Gingrich’s remarks “were grave comments that represented an incitement for ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians.”