JERUSALEM - Palestinian officials reacted furiously on Saturday to Newt Gingrich's assertion that they are an "invented people," accusing the Republican presidential candidate of incitement and staging a "cheap stunt" to court the Jewish vote.
Gingrich's remarks struck at the heart of Palestinian sensitivities about the righteousness of their struggle for an independent state and put him at odds not only with the international community but with all but an extremist fringe in Israel. Mainstream Israelis, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, support the idea of an independent Palestine alongside Israel as part of a final peace agreement.
In footage released Friday, the former House speaker told the Jewish Channel, a U.S. cable TV network, that the Palestinians were an "invented people."
"Remember, there was no Palestine as a state - [it was] part of the Ottoman Empire. I think we have an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and historically part of the Arab community and they had the chance to go many places," Gingrich said, according to a video excerpt posted online.
Gingrich sought to clarify his position Saturday, saying in Iowa that he supports a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, including a Palestinian state.
In a statement, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said, "To understand what is being proposed and negotiated, you have to understand decades of complex history - which is exactly what Gingrich was referencing."
Those latest comments appeared unlikely to calm the uproar among Palestinian officials.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad demanded Gingrich "review history."
"From the beginning, our people have been determined to stay on their land," Fayyad said in comments reported by the Palestinian news agency Wafa. "This, certainly, is denying historical truths."
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, accused Gingrich of incitement. "Mark my words . . . these statements of Gingrich's will be the ammunitions and weapons of the bin Ladens and the extremists for a long, long time," Erekat told CNN.
The Palestinians have never had an independent state of their own.
The region was ruled by the Ottomans for several centuries, and when the Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I, the British took control of the area.
It was known as the British Mandate for Palestine, and Muslims, Christians, and Jews living there were all referred to as Palestinians.
After the Arabs rejected an international plan calling for the establishment of Jewish and Arab states, part of the land became the state of Israel. During the 1948 war surrounding the Jewish state's creation, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes.