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Gingrich sticks by comment calling Palestinians "invented" people

Newt Gingrich
Republican presidential candidate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich takes part in the Republican debate, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011, in Des Moines, Iowa. Attacked as a lifelong Washington insider, newly minted Republican front-runner Newt Gingrich parried criticism from Mitt Romney in campaign debate Saturday night, telling the former Massachusetts governor, "The only reason you didn't become a career politician is because you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994." AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Newt Gingrich is standing by comments he made earlier this week when he called the Palestinians an "invented" people.

"Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire," the former House speaker told the Jewish Channel this week. "And I think that we've have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab community, and they had the chance to go many places."

Gingrich's comments immediately caused a stir in the Middle East and elsewhere. A Palestinian legislator said Gingrich had "lost touch with reality," while another official described called him "ignorant," according to the Associated Press.

Gingrich was then asked about the comments during Saturday night's Republican presidential debate from Iowa, which was sponsored by ABC News.

"Is what I said factually correct? Yes. Is it historically true? Yes," he answered. "Are we in a situation where every day rockets are fired into Israel while the United States? The current administration tries to pressure the Israelis into a peace process... Somebody ought to have the courage to tell the truth. These people are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools. They have textbooks that say, if there are 13 Jews and nine Jews are killed, how many Jews are left? We pay for those textbooks through our aid money. It's fundamentally time for somebody to have the guts to stand up and say, enough lying about the Middle East."

Gingrich draws notice over Palestinian remark

Gingrich's rivals criticized him for the remark, but none too harshly. Republicans often tout their commitment to standing up for Israel in front of audiences of conservative voters who tend to have strong feelings toward Israel.

Notably, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas said Gingrich's statement was "just stirring up trouble."

"Technically and historically, yes-- you know, under the Ottoman Empire, the Palestinians didn't have a state, but neither did Israel have a state then too," Paul said.

The modern state of Israel was created in 1948 by the United Nations.

"I happen to agree with... most of the speaker said, except by going out and saying the Palestinians are an invented people. That I think was a mistake on the speaker's part," Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said.

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Romney also attacked Gingrich for causing controversy with his statements.

"The last thing [Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi Netanyahu needs to have is not just a person who's a historian, but someone who is also running for president of the United States stand up and say things that create extraordinary tumult in... his neighborhood," Romney said. "And if I'm president of the United States, I will exercise sobriety, care, stability and make sure that I don't say anything like this. Anything I say that can affect a place with -- with rockets going in, with people dying. I don't do anything that would harm that -- that process. And, therefore, before I made a statement of that nature, I'd get on the phone to my friend, Bibi Netanyahu and say, would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do? Let's work together because we're partners. I'm not a bomb-thrower. Rhetorically or literally."

Gingrich responded by evoking Ronald Reagan and saying he had the "courage to tell the truth."

"I think sometimes it is helpful to have a president of the United States who has the courage to tell the truth, just as it was Ronald Reagan who went around his entire national security apparatus to call the Soviet Union an evil empire, and who overruled his entire State Department in order to say, 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,'" he said. "Reagan believed the power of truth restated the world and re framed the world. I am a Reaganite. I'm proud to be a Reaganite. I will tell the truth, even if it's at the risk of causing some confusion sometimes with the timid."

Moderator Diane Sawyer asked Former Sen. Rick Santorum who won the point between Romney and Gingrich.

"I think you have to speak the truth. But you have to do so with prudence.. it's a combination," Santorum said. "I sat there and I listened to both. I thought they both... made excellent points. But we're in a real life situation. This isn't an academic exercise... We have an ally here that we have to work closely with. And I think Mitt's point... was the correct one. We need to be working with the Israelis to find out, you know what? Is this a wise thing for us to do? To step forward and to engage this issue? Maybe it is. My guess is at this point in time, it's not. Not that we shouldn't tell the truth, but we should be talking to our allies. It's their fight."

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