During an interview with the Jewish Channel released yesterday, Newt Gingrich said that the Palestinians are an “invented people,” a position that was seen as essentially denying the Palestinians’ right to a state. Gingrich also said in the interview that the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership, which the New York Times notes “has pledged to respect Israel’s right to exist,” really harbors “an enormous desire to destroy Israel.” A Gingrich spokesperson today clarified that the former Speaker supports a Palestinian state, but seemed to suggest that he stands by his original claim:
“Newt 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,” the spokesman, R.C. Hammond, said in a statement.
“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 The Jewish Channel.”
The Times reports that “Middle East experts said the views that Mr. Gingrich originally expressed were inaccurate and counterproductive.” Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said the comments suggested that Gingrich is not really a supporter of Israel:
Martin S. Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel, said that if Mr. Gingrich believed that Palestinians did not have a right to an independent state, “as implied in his language, then he’s not pro-Israel at all.”
“Because the government of Israel under Prime Minister Netanyahu supports a two-state solution,” Mr. Indyk said. “The people of Israel — an overwhelming majority of them — support a two-state solution, in which there would be an independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure state of Israel.”
PA prime minister Salam Fayyad reportedly called Gingrich’s original remarks “extremely trivial, demeaning and ridiculous,” adding, “Even the most extremist settlers of Israel wouldn’t talk in such a ridiculous way.”