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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.

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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."

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A spokesman for the militant Hamas rulers of the Palestinian Gaza Strip called Gingrich's statements "shameful and disgraceful."

Palestinians are culturally Arabs – they speak Arabic and their culture is broadly shared by other Arabs who live in the eastern Mediterranean. But for the most part, they identify themselves as Palestinians, just as Lebanese, Jordanians, and Syrians also identify themselves with a specific national identity.

Although they may not wade into the Israel-Palestine debate as Gingrich did, the other Republican candidates in the nominating race likely would not disagree with the former House Speaker’s remarks. As they prepared for Saturday night’s debate, none did.

By Saturday afternoon, Gingrich seemed to back-pedal or at least “clarify” his comments to the Jewish Channel cable network.

"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," Gingrich 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 Jewish TV."

In any case, it seemed to be one more example of the GOP front-runner saying something apparently designed to provoke or at least not fully thought-through.

In the past week, a growing list of Republican lawmakers who served with him in the House, GOP strategists, and conservative pundits have publicly said Gingrich’s personality and character make him unfit to win his party’s nomination or to serve as president.

“He's philosophically unanchored, an unstable element,” Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan and former Reagan speechwriter wrote this week. “There are too many storms within him, and he seeks out external storms in order to equalize his own atmosphere. He's a trouble magnet, a starter of fights that need not be fought…. He is a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, ‘Watch this!’”

The report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.