Gingrich draws notice over Palestinian remark

As the Republican presidential hopefuls were set to debate in Iowa Saturday night, some new controversial comments on the Middle East by the new frontrunner are getting a lot of attention.

Newt Gingrich had called the Palestinians an "invented" people. Palestinian officials fired back saying Gingrich has "lost touch with reality." CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds in Iowa looks at this latest controversy.

Gingrich -- a former history professor -- may well have fueled concerns about his leadership and temperament with his comments this week on the Middle East -- specifically the saga of the Israelis and the Palestinians.

"There was no Palestine as a state," he said in an interview with The Jewish Channel."It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and who are historically part of the Arab community and they had a chance to go many places.

Calling into question the legitimacy of the Palestinians and the desire for a state of their own runs counter to American, as well as Israeli policy, which support a two-state solution based on negotiations.

And to say of the Palestinians that they had places to go -- when thousands were driven from their homes in the 1948 war for Israeli independence -- created an almost immediate outcry.

Palestinians slam Gingrich as "ignorant"

"For his information before 1948 there was no Israel, and there was no Israeli people," Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine. "There is a limit to how irresponsible you can be, and I think this is well over the limit."

None of Gingrich's rivals were critical. Most have pledged unyielding support for the Jewish state and many Evangelicals here will cheer his remarks.

On Saturday afternoon, in an interview with CBS affiliate KCCI, Gingrich stood by his statement.

"So do you feel what you said was taken out of context then?" the interviewer asked Gingrich.

"No, I think it's a real argument."

While his campaign also said that Gingrich, supports negotiations "over the borders of a Palestinian state," his mindset on the Middle East could be an example of a broader issue.

"Some are worried that these loose lips," said Leonard Steinhorn, communications professor at American University, "this undisciplined character could ill serve him as president of the United States. You cannot just say what's top of mind when you are president of the United States."

That's why what Gingrich says at Saturday night's debate -- and how he says it -- will be watched more closely than ever before.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.