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Gingrich remarks 'demeaning and ridiculous'

Dec. 10, 2011 2:58 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 11, 2011 3:13 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A top US presidential hopeful's denial of the Palestinian people's existence reflects a dark and racist worldview, Palestinian officials said Saturday.

The prime minister in Ramallah urged Newt Gingrich to apologize to the Palestinian people, after Gingrich called them "an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs."

“These are extremely trivial, demeaning and ridiculous remarks,” Salam Fayyad told reporters. “Even the most extremist settlers of Israel wouldn’t talk in such a ridiculous way.”

Racist banter is unbecoming of a candidate seeking the office of the presidency, especially of the most powerful country whose leaders boast of their respect for democracy and human rights, he said.

Such remarks would be better suited for a politician adhering to "a Nazi ideology, a source of suffering for humanity, and the Jews topped the list of victims” of that ideology, he said.

Gingrich along with other Republican candidates are seeking to attract Jewish support by vowing to bolster US ties with Israel if elected.

The former speaker of the US House of Representatives had predictably sided with Israel in its decades-old dispute with the Palestinians but took it a step further in his interview with the Jewish Channel.

The cable station posted online its interview with Gingrich, who has risen to the top of Republican polls with voting to start early next year to pick a nominee to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election.

He differed with official US policy that respects the Palestinians as a people deserving of their own state based on negotiations with Israel.

"Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire" until the early 20th century, Gingrich said.

"I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a 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," he added.

Fayyad urged the Republican candidate to open a history book.

“He and his ilk should relearn their history, as seemingly the only thing he knows about is the Ottoman era. The way he distorts historic facts is unacceptable,” he said.

“Our people have been here from the beginning, and they are determined to remain on their land until the end,” Fayyad continued.

Most historians mark the start of Palestinian Arab nationalist sentiment in 1834, when Arab residents of the Palestinian region revolted against Ottoman rule.

Israel, founded amid the 1948 Arab-Israel war, took shape along the lines of a 1947 UN plan for ethnic partition of the then-British ruled territory of Palestine which Arabs rejected.

PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said Gingrich seemed to have lost touch with reality.

“His remarks reflect racism, and ignorance, and it is a cheap attempt to appeal to Jewish voters at the expense of the Palestinian people’s rights, and at the expense of peace in the region,” she said.

Other Palestinian officials were equally incensed.

Tayseer Khalid, a senior leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, called on both parties in the United States to avoid taking sides in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

They should not take an extremely defensive position in support of “the colonialist, aggressive policy of the State of Israel” in order to win votes, he added.

In his interview, Gingrich also broke with US policy supporting the Palestinian Authority.

He said the Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, represent "an enormous desire to destroy Israel."

The US government has sought to encourage the Palestinian Authority to negotiate with Israel but has labeled Hamas as a terrorist group.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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