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)