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With an eye toward the Jewish vote, Newt Gingrich disses Palestinians

In an interview on the Jewish Channel cable network, GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich said Palestinians are an “invented” people. He also said he might grant clemency to Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.

By Staff writer / December 10, 2011

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich addresses the 2012 Republican Presidential Candidates Forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011, in Washington.

Cliff Owen/AP

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If Newt Gingrich wanted to stay newsworthy in the hours leading up to Saturday night’s Republican presidential debate in Iowa, he sure succeeded.

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In an interview on the Jewish Channel cable network, Gingrich said Palestinians are an “invented” people because they were part of the Ottoman Empire before the British mandate and Israel's creation.

“Remember, there was no Palestine as a state,” he said. “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.”

Palestinians and their supporters claim that many Palestinians were forced out of their traditional homeland when Israel was created in 1948. US policy has been that any long-term settlement in the Middle East would include a Palestinian homeland.

In recent days, the Republican presidential hopefuls have gone out of their way to express support for Israel. The one exception has been Ron Paul, who says he would zero out all US foreign aid, including Israel’s.

In his interview Friday, Gingrich seemed to take that another significant step in the direction of Israel.

In addition to his remarks on Palestinians, he also said he would consider granting clemency to Jonathan Jay Pollard, who has been serving a life prison term since 1987 for passing US secrets to Israel. Every president since then has 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.

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Gingrich’s comments about Palestine brought an immediate and outraged response.

"From the beginning, our people have been determined to stay on their land," Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said in comments carried by the Palestinian news agency Wafa. "This, certainly, is denying historical truths."

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