JERUSALEM - A slew of Palestinian officials reacted with dismay yesterday to Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich's statement that the Palestinians are an "invented" people.
The Jewish Channel, a U.S. cable TV network, released excerpts of the interview on Friday in which the former House Speaker said Palestinians were not a people because they had never had a state and because they were part of the Ottoman Empire before the British mandate and Israel's creation.
"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, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and it's tragic," Gingrich said, according to a video excerpt posted online.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad demanded that Gingrich review history.
"The Palestinian people inhabited this land since the dawn of history, and they intend to remain on it until the end of time," Fayyad said, in comments carried by the Palestinian news agency Wafa.
"People like Gingrich should study history," Fayyad added, "because it seems that all he knows about the region is the history of the Ottoman era."
Gingrich's statements struck at the heart of Palestinian sensitivities about the righteousness of their national struggle.
Palestinians never had their own state - they were ruled by the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years, like most of the Arab world. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed in the aftermath of World War I, the British, then a global colonial power, took control of the area, then known as British Mandate Palestine.
During that time, Jews, Muslims and Christians living on the land were identified as "Palestinian."
Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said Gingrich had "lost touch with reality." She said his statements were "a cheap way to win [the] pro-Israel vote."
A spokesman for Hamas in Gaza called Gingrich's statements "shameful and disgraceful."
"These statements ... show genuine hostility toward Palestinians," said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.
Palestinians bristle at the implication that they were generic Arabs with no specific attachment to the land that Zionist Jews coveted. Using the word "Palestinians" is a way for them to emphasize their claims.
During the war surrounding Israel's creation in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled, or were forced to flee their homes.
Gingrich's reasoning was popular in the decades following Israel's creation, although that argument has since fallen out of favor among mainstream Israelis.
Israeli officials were not immediately available for comment.
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