WASHINGTON – US Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich thrust himself into controversy on Friday by declaring that the Palestinians are an “invented” people who want to destroy Israel.
The former speaker of the US House of Representatives sided with Israel in its decades-old dispute with the Palestinians but took it a step further in an interview with the Jewish Channel.
The cable station posted online its interview with Gingrich, who has risen to the top of Republican polls with voting to start early next year to pick a nominee to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election.
Gingrich differed with official US policy that respects the Palestinians as a people deserving of their own state based on negotiations with Israel.
“Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire” until the early 20th century, Gingrich said.
“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.
Gingrich along with other Republican candidates are seeking to attract Jewish support by vowing to bolster US ties with Israel if elected.
Gingrich said he would be willing to consider granting clemency to Jonathan Jay Pollard, who has been serving a life prison term since 1987 for passing US secrets to Israel. Successive US presidents have refused Israeli entreaties to free him.
“If we can get to a point where I’m satisfied that there’s no national security threat, and if he’s in fact served within the range of people who’ve had a similar problem, then I’d be inclined to consider clemency,” Gingrich said.