Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman 311 (R).
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, not known for reticence in making right-wing
pronouncements or speaking his mind, opted Monday not to share his thoughts on
US Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s recent remark that the
Palestinians are an “invented” people.
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After spending the better part of
a press conference Monday defending recent comments he made in Russia about the
legitimacy of the elections there, Lieberman – when asked by The Jerusalem Post
about Gingrich’s comments – laughed and said he did not want to interfere in the
internal matters of another country.
Gingrich, now the Republican
front-runner, said Friday in an interview with The Jewish Channel that there
“was no Palestine as a state.”
“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 we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s,
and it’s tragic,” he said.
Lieberman’s refusal to respond to Gingrich’s
words was telling. Even though he, or other cabinet ministers, may agree with
the sentiment, they are – for the most part – carefully avoiding any response to
it. The only cabinet minister who has so far publicly supported Gingrich was
Lieberman’s colleague from Israel Beiteinu, National Infrastructures Minister
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office, asked Saturday
night about Gingrich’s statement, said it was obvious that Israel would not
respond to the remarks.
Gingrich, meanwhile, has been lambasted for his
words, from everyone from the Arab League, to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, to
Republican opponents Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. If Gingrich was looking for some
backing for the sentiment, he wouldn’t find it in Israel’s Foreign Ministry or
the Prime Minister’s Office.
The reason, diplomatic officials explained –
anonymously – is that Israel has nothing to gain by inserting itself into the
current US presidential debate.
“Anything we would say would be used
against us,” one official said “Any comment would either insult Gingrich, insult
Romney, or insult the Democrats. So why say anything?” The official said that
Israel’s lack of response to this comment was similar to its history of not
commenting when US presidential candidates – from Bill Clinton to John McCain –
made comments during the campaign about moving the US embassy to
“If Gingrich is elected and then makes this statement, then we
would comment,” the official said. “Not a minute before.”
said Gingrich’s comment, which signals a rejection of the widely accepted
historical narrative about the conflict, needed stronger, more academic
arguments of support than the ones the presidential candidate presented during
The official added that it was ironic the Palestinians
were aghast at Gingrich’s statement, since PA President Mahmoud Abbas – during
his recent speech to the UN – denied any Jewish connection to
While Arab spokesmen may acknowledge a Jewish religion, they do
not generally recognize the Jews as a people entitled to a state.
government official, relating to why Israel’s leaders have remained completely
quiet about Gingrich’s comments, said “the worst thing for Israel would be if
its support in the US would become a partisan issue.”
Israel, he said,
does not want to interject itself into the domestic US political campaign in any