In footage aired on December 9, Newt Gingrich told the Jewish Channel that the Palestinians were an "invented people":
Remember, there was no Palestine as a state -- (it was) part of the Ottoman Empire. I think we have an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and historically part of the Arab community, and they had the chance to go many places.
The fact is that almost all Arab countries are "invented." As the late French adventurer/intellectual André Malraux once remarked, "There are only two Arab countries that are also nations: Egypt and Morocco."
From the beginnings of Islam, the faithful were part of the overall community of believers, the "umma." States only came along later. In earlier times there were two major polities in the Near East region, the cities of Damascus and Cairo. With the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, two League of Nations mandates were created, one designated Syria and Lebanon under French mandate, and the other designated Palestine and Iraq under British mandate. Three of these creations eventually became independant states, but Palestine did not.
Gingrich came back to his statement the next day, during the debate among Republican presidential hopefuls in Des Moines:
Is what I said factually correct? Yes. Is it historically true? Yes. Somebody ought to have the courage to tell the truth. These people are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools. It's fundamentally time for somebody to have the guts to stand up and say: enough lying about the Middle East.
Gingrich, advertently or otherwise, lent himself to the negationist propaganda we sometimes hear in Israel. For example, Golda Meir told The Sunday Times on June15, 1969 that, "There is no such thing as a Palestinian people...It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn't exist."
What existed in Palestine was an Arab population, many of whom were displaced from Palestine in the wars of 1948-1949 and 1967. What difference does it make if these displaced persons, as well as those remaining under occupation in Palestine, call themselves Palestinians, as they prefer to do, or "just" Arabs.
Gingrich, who holds a Ph.D. in modern European history from Tulane, has met with sharp criticism, coming from both Arabs and Jews. His aides have engaged in damage control, stating that former House speaker does indeed favor a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It seems that though White House aides are beginning to think about the rising polls of Mr. Gingrich, they are still are mostly focused on their more credible opponent, the less impetuous Mitt Romney.