(Charles Krupa/AP)

“All the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis.  They are not Palestinians. There is no Palestinian. This is Israeli land.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, Nov. 21. 2011

A blog on The Jewish Week Web site highlighted this statement on Monday, which was also captured on tape and posted on YouTube. (See clip at the end of the column.) The statement is somewhat reminiscent of former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s comment that the Palestinians are an “invented people.” 

 Gingrich’s comments spawned outrage at the time, but Gingrich actually spoke a couple of weeks after Santorum’s remarks, which were made in the context of defending Israel’s right to build settlements in the West Bank. As Jewish Week noted, Santorum’s “views got little attention at the time because he was considered a hopeless back-of-the-pack candidate and not being taken very seriously.”

 In many ways, Santorum’s remarks have even more important policy implications than Gingrich’s statement, which was a historical observation (though a highly debatable one).


The Facts

 In the conversation captured on tape, Santorum argues that the West Bank belongs to Israel because Arab nations launched an “aggressive attack” in 1967 but Israel defeated them and acquired the land as part of the spoils of war.

“It was ground that was gained during war,” he said, similar to the United States gaining territory after defeating Mexico in the 19th century. “Should we give Texas back to Mexico?” he asked. “Bottom line, it is legitimately Israeli country.” 

Laying aside Santorum’s historical perspective, the striking thing about his comments is that they represent an even more conservative position than that taken by the Israeli government.

Israel, which over international protests annexed land around Jerusalem, has not annexed the West Bank but instead has labeled it “disputed territory” subject to negotiations on the creation of a Palestinian state.

As Israel’s Foreign Ministry puts it:

“The West Bank can best be regarded as disputed territory over which there are competing claims that should be resolved in peace talks. The final status of this disputed territory should be determined through negotiations between the parties.”

 Moreover, because of a series of agreements between Israelis and Palestinians, Palestinians have now acquired self-government over tracts of West Bank territory. A map on the Foreign Ministry Web site shows the sections of the West Bank that are subject either to full Palestinian military and civilian control or just civilian Palestinian control. The statement above the map says:

 “The final status of Judea and Samaria — determining the  borders between Israel and the Palestinian state, and those parts of Judea and Samaria which are to be correspondingly under Israeli and Palestinian jurisdiction — is yet to be resolved and is currently the subject of negotiations between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

 In other words, Israel makes no claim that the Arabs residing in the West Bank are Israelis and in fact has already given up some governmental control to Palestinian self-rule — with the implication that even more territory will eventually form a Palestinian state.

Santorum, by labeling the Palestinians as “Israelis,” appears to be adopting a position similar to that favored by some Palestinians increasingly skeptical of a two-state solution — a one-state solution that would grant equal rights to Jews and Arabs. Under such a proposal, demographic changes might  lead to a greater Arab population than a Jewish population in the single entity, which is why some Israeli politicians, such as opposition leader Tzipi Livni, have accepted the need for a separate Palestinian state.

According to the CIA World Factbook, about 2.6 million people live in the West Bank, including nearly 300,000 Israeli settlers. (Another 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state.) The CIA lists the population of the West Bank as “Palestinian Arab and other 83%, Jewish 17 %.”

A Santorum spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.


The Pinocchio Test

 Santorum might argue that he is simply expressing an opinion here — and certainly we take no position on his statements about Israeli settlements. But he appears to be stating this as a fact — there are no “Palestinians” living in the West Bank and this is Israeli land.

But that stance is flatly refuted by the Israeli government, which calls the land “disputed territory” and does not grant Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians living in the West Bank. In fact, the Israeli Foreign Ministry refers to areas of “Palestinian jurisdiction.”

 The Israeli position that the territories are “disputed” is not accepted by much of the world, but it seems that the very least a potential U.S. president could do is accept the definitions used by the Israeli government.

Four Pinocchios

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 Watch Santorum’s comments on Palestinians