Palestinians slam Gingrich as "ignorant"

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.

Last Updated 2:18 p.m. ET

JERUSALEM - Palestinian officials are reacting with dismay to Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich's statement that they are an "invented" people.

The Jewish Channel on Friday released excerpts of an interview in which the former House Speaker said Palestinians were not a people because - unlike Israelis - they never had a state.

"Remember, there was no Palestine as a state," Gingrich said. "It was part of the Ottoman Empire.

"I think we have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and who are historically part of the Arab community, and they had a chance to go to many places, and for a variety of political reasons, we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s. It's tragic."

Palestinian official Nabil Abu Rdeneh on Saturday described Gingrich's comments as "unfortunate" and called him "ignorant".

The Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, demanded Gingrich "review history."

"From the beginning, our people have been determined to stay on their land," Fayyad said in comments carried by the Palestinian news agency Wafa. "This, certainly, is denying historical truths."

Gingrich's statements struck at the heart of Palestinian sensitivities about the righteousness of their national struggle.

Palestinians never had their own state — they were ruled by the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years, like most of the Arab world. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed in the aftermath of World War I, the British, then a global colonial power, took control of the area, then known as British Mandate Palestine.

During that time, Jews, Muslims and Christians living on the land were identified as "Palestinian."

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said Gingrich had "lost touch with reality." She said his statements were "a cheap way to win (the) pro-Israel vote."

A spokesman for the militant Hamas rulers of the Palestinian Gaza Strip called Gingrich's statements "shameful and disgraceful."

"These statements ... show genuine hostility toward Palestinians," said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.

Palestinians bristle at the implication that they were generic Arabs with no specific attachment to the land that Zionist Jews coveted. Using the word "Palestinians" is a way for them to emphasize their claims.

Palestinians are culturally Arabs — they speak Arabic and their culture is broadly shared by other Arabs who live in the eastern Mediterranean.

But they, for the most part, identify themselves as Palestinians, just as the Lebanese, Jordanians and Syrians also identify themselves with a specific national identity.

For Palestinians, their identity was hewed over decades of fighting against another nationalist struggle over the same land — that of Zionist Jews.

During the war surrounding the Jewish state's creation in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled, or were forced to flee their homes.

Gingrich's reasoning was popular in the decades following Israel's creation, although that argument has since fallen out of favor among mainstream Israelis.

Israeli officials were not immediately available on the Jewish Sabbath for comment.

On Saturday afternoon the Gingrich campaign issued a statement regarding the "invented" comment.

"Gingrich supports a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which will necessarily include agreement between Israel and the Palestinians over the borders of a Palestinian state," Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said. "However, to understand what is being proposed and negotiated you have to understand decades of complex history - which is exactly what Gingrich was referencing during the recent interview with Jewish TV."

In the interview, Gingrich also said President Barack Obama's effort to treat Palestinians as the same as the Israelis is "favoring the terrorists."

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