Last week, in an interview with cable TV’s The Jewish Channel, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich caused a stir when he asserted that Palestinians are an “invented people”. He recounted that historically, Palestinians were simply Arabs who lived in the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, and that there never was a country of Palestine.
All of this is historically correct, and yet begs the follow-up question: And therefore, what?
Like it or not, Palestinian nationalism is a reality, recognized by every American president and Israeli prime minister since the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993. Gingrich’s statement left the impression that he thinks otherwise. If, as president, his policies in the Middle East were shaped by a denial of Palestinian nationalism, it would make an already intractable conflict impossible to resolve.
By Saturday afternoon, Gingrich spokesman R. C. Hammond issued this statement, affirming the candidate’s support of a negotiated, two-state solution.
On Saturday evening, at the Republican candidates debate, Gingrich stood by the historical accuracy of his earlier statements, and moved on to address the threats that Israel faces: the steady rocket fire coming from Gaza, the Hamas goal of Israel’s annihilation, and the hatred of Jews that is taught in Palestinian schools. This last item is an uncomfortable truth seldom addressed bluntly by American leaders, who tend to use the more vague term “incitement”. You can see example after example of what Palestinian children are exposed to catalogued at Palestinian Media Watch. There is much about this conflict that frustrates me, angers me, frightens me. But this teaching of hatred makes me feel despair.
Despite speaking the plain truth about what Israel faces, Gingrich characterizes the Palestinians as terrorists, which is neither accurate nor fair. Who did he mean? The Palestinian leaders? Everyone? Is he aware of the Palestinians of good will who are seeking co-existence? Is he aware of organizations such as Search for Common Ground? I had coffee with the organization’s Israeli co-director (there is also a Palestinian co-director) last summer in Jerusalem, and I was deeply impressed with the scope of their projects to promote positive relationships between Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs in the region. The grass roots connections that they are building, and the sharing and cooperation that will ensue- this is surely a step forward for both sides.
Although Gingrich is a strong supporter of Israel, I think that these recently stated views lack nuance.
If I were part of the Gingrich team I know how I would advise him.
Here’s my question for you: How would YOU advise him?
(Photo: Gage Skidmore)
All nationalities were invented by people. Some were just invented more recently than others.
The keystone of the Arab narrative against Israel is the claim that a unique and historically distinct people called Palestinians are struggling against the Zionist occupation of their homeland. The evolvement of a Palestinian identity since the late 1960’s does not obscure the common sense logic that this newfound identity cannot be used to retroactively justify violence against Jews for nearly a hundred years before the identity existed.
Establishing that a Palestinian Arab identity is a modern construct undermines the very foundation of the Arab narrative and justification for terrorism and genocidal wars.
Every mainstream sector of Palestinian Arab society openly instills in their children and others a hatred of Jews, a love of martyrdom and the goal of the eventual destruction of the Jewish state either in stages like the Palestinian Authority has stated, or all at once like the Islamic Resistance Movement(aka HAMAS)espouses. There is no evidence that minor fringe groups like Search For Common Ground have any influence on the general public.
Gingrich should tell the truth and provide evidence to prove it while demanding that nay sayers also show documentation that the contrary position is correct.
A sign of peace will be when people of all religions can openly and safely practice and promote their beliefs where Arabs govern; like in Israel today.
Michael falsely asserts that “every mainstream sector of Palestinian Arab society openly instills in their children and others a hatred of Jews.”
He must not consider the Palestinian Authority to be a mainstream sector of Palestinian Arab society, because Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Abbas are THE Palestinian leaders fighting against violent extremism internally and pushing for a two-state solution with Israel.
While many in Palestinian society promote hatred and fear of Jews and Israelis, and this is properly condemned, we are also responsible as Jews to condemn similar teachings of hatred and racism that unfortunately occur in the extremist minority corners of our own Jewish community. This is, in fact, a two way street.
Evan, thanks for weighing in. The Palestinian Authority under Abbas has brought relative quiet and order to the West Bank, and as a result their economy is growing. But some of their messages about Jews and Israel are very troubling. Check out what appeared on Palestinian Authority TV:
VIolent Jewish extremists are a tiny minority but must be dealt with to the fullest extent of Israeli law. Israel must do everything possible to catch those that torched a mosque this week and make their punishment an example for others of like mind.
Mike, thanks for reading and responding. I agree with you that the hallmark of peace will be when minorities in Arab countries enjoy the same freedoms and protections as the majority. It may happen yet in our lifetime….and it may not.
There are Palestinians with more moderate views, but the lack of freedom in Palestinian society makes it hard for moderates to gain traction. It is precisely for that reason that groups like Search for Common Ground deserve our respect and support. They have a real uphill battle in combating extremism on the Palestinian side, lack of trust on the Israeli side, and the despair of those who have given up on peace ever being achieved.