By William Fisher. Many of us are still scratching our heads about Newt Gingrich’s remarks that the Palestinians are an “invented” people, all of whom are “terrorists.”

We know the terrorist tag is utterly bogus. But we’re getting used to pretty rabid Islamophobia in our country (Witness Lowe’s pulling its ads from a documentary about an American Muslim family.)

It’s the other part of his construct that has historians and theologians baffled. Things Gingrich says about the facts of history are supposed to be accurate. After all, the guy’s been a history teacher.

Wendy Chamberlin, our former ambassador to Pakistan, is one of those who decided to take on mano-o-mano combat with the Sage of K Street. She wrote in Politico, “You could point to just about any country on the globe and claim, with some truth, that the people living there are ‘invented’”.

Humans’ migration patterns over the long course of recorded history have meant that most of us come from somewhere else — depending on how far back you go. The French, Brazilians, Arfikaaners and, most certainly, Americans are all invented peoples — if Gingrich means people not native to the land where they currently reside. By this definition, Palestinians probably have a stronger claim to nationhood than any of the above.”

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Listen now to a gentleman who knows a tad about the history of his people.
He is George Salem, a veteran Republican and the Chairman of the Arab American Institute, arguably the most reasoned and credible voice for Arabs throughout the world. Here’s what Mr. Salem had to say about what he termed Gingrich’s  “new low in the campaign rhetoric of presidential hopefuls.”

From George Salem:

A review of maps going back to the 16th century – and any serious review of history going back centuries earlier – reveals that Palestine and Palestinians were clearly there. They were a part of the Ottoman Empire, to be sure, but so too were the modern nations of Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and even Israel.

Most Palestinians seek recognition as a sovereign state in secure borders and wish to live in peace with their neighbors, including Israel. The Palestinians are not “invented.” They are a people who have been molded into a national community by forces of history. And like other national communities they deserve to be free and independent, and at peace in their own land with their rights recognized and respected.

The Gingrich slander that “these people are terrorists” paints an entire people unfairly, incorrectly and, from a man who wishes to be president, inexcusably. This is not “history” or “truth-telling” as Mr. Gingrich claims. This is incitement that can have a detrimental impact on American policy.

Further, Mr. Gingrich’s current view on Palestine is a major shift away from the mainstream Republican stance. In 2007, President George W. Bush described “a vision of a peaceful state called Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people.” President Bush repeatedly argued for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as did Republican members of his administration such as Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-IN) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) are among a few of the Republican Senators who have emphasized a two-state solution – an Israeli state and a state for the Palestinian people.

More recently, U.S. policy and even official Israeli state policy recognize the Palestinians as a people – it is quite obviously one of the assumptions underlying the entire framework for the peace process itself.

Middle East peace is a serious issue that should gain the attention of all serious candidates for President. It is an issue which all Presidents since Dwight Eisenhower have had to tackle and it is impossible to credit Gingrich’s implication that all of that bi-partisan history has been a ‘lie’.

But are we hopeful that such smack-downs will moderate Gingrich’s bellicosity? Newt being Newt, not so much.

William Fisher

William Fisher has managed economic development programs for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere for the past 25 years. He has supervised major multi-year projects for AID in Egypt, where he lived and worked for three years. He returned later with his team to design Egypt's agricultural strategy. Fisher served in the international affairs area in the administration of President John F. Kennedy. He began his working life as a reporter and bureau chief for the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Associated Press in Florida. He now reports on a wide-range of issues for a number of online journals.