The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Saturday sharply criticized Newt Gingrich’s remark this week that the Palestinians are an “invented” people, calling the statement by the former House speaker and GOP presidential contender “divisive and destructive.”
“Next Gingrich is wrong to think his attempt to turn the Palestinians into a non-people with no claim to a state will appeal to his audience on the Jewish Channel, on which they are apparently to be aired on Monday,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said in a statement.
“The vast majority of American Jews (including this one) and the Israeli Government itself are committed to a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians live side-by-side as neighbors and in peace,” he added.
Gingrich, whom polls show surging in several early primary states less than a month before the nominating process starts, made the remark Wednesday in an interview expected to broadcast Monday on The Jewish Channel. News of the comments was first reported by Politico’s Ben Smith on Friday afternoon.
“Remember, there was no Palestine as a state,” Gingrich says in the interview. “It was part of the Ottoman Empire. We have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab people, 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 I think it’s tragic.”
The remarks represent a shift by Gingrich away from the long-standing U.S. policy goal of a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, a position that has been advocated by both Republican and Democratic presidents.
Most Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have declined to weigh in on the GOP presidential primary, although House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi last month mocked Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) request for a “public debate” with the California Democrat, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) claimed Perry was “pandering to the tea party” by proposing that lawmakers’ salaries and time spent in Washington be slashed.
That Gingrich’s comments drew such a strong rebuke from Levin suggests that while the former speaker may have made them in an attempt to appeal to social conservatives in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa, the remarks could wind up backfiring, particularly within the foreign policy community.
In his statement, Levin argued that Gingrich’s “cynical efforts to attract attention to himself with divisive and destructive statements will not help his presidential ambitions since they are aimed at putting the peace between Israel and the Palestinians that Americans yearn for even further out of reach than it is today.”
“Gingrich offered no solutions — just a can of gasoline and a match,” he added.