Fact: There was never a Palestinian State. Fact: Newt Gingrich is a Presidential prospective. Fact: Gingrich chose to respond to question about the Palestinians by saying that “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”. Fact: Palestinians were outraged by these comments.
Here is Gingrich, talking to the Jewish Channel:
What are we to make of all these facts? That Gingrich may be a fine historian but has no diplomatic skills? That he would choose provocation over moderation? I think we have already established these two impressions of Gingrich’s long ago.
That Palestinians are quick to denounce such provocations but not always as quick to protest against similar claims aimed at Israel? That Israelis are quick to find solace in such dogged American support even though it doesn’t solve any of the actual problems they have with Palestinians? I think this should also be obvious by this time to any observer of Israel-Palestine-American affairs.
That the peace process is stuck and no one has any idea how to move it forward? That in such an environment all kinds of crazy talk are the only way to grab the headlines of the morrow’s paper? Well, that is also quite clear. In recent years we have heard a lot of one-state-solution crazy-talk from both sides, and no-Palestinian-people and no-Israeli-people from both sides. I consider it all to be attempts at rhetorical bullying. Palestinians were trying to threaten Israelis with the one-state vision but didn’t quite succeed. As I’ve once wrote, “If Palestinians are on the way to changing their goal, and presenting the world with a new vision for their future, Israel shouldn’t be lagging behind and leaving them the stage without preparing its own new goals”. Some did it by going back to believing in the so-called “Jordan is Palestine” option, and some, like Gingrich, are doing it by trying to rewrite reality.
Interestingly, Gingrich doesn’t rewrite history. He gets his facts right, without realizing, or explaining, that such facts don’t much matter. If the “Palestinian People” were created two thousand years ago or twenty minutes ago doesn’t matter, as long as one is convinced that they are here to stay. And as far as I can tell, they are here to stay, and Israelis are here to stay as well (as the residents of a Jewish State) and all else is just a distraction from this reality.
If Gingrich becomes President, he will have to acknowledge such a reality, no matter what he personally thinks about the “invention” of these people or others. Jordan is a colonialist invention; Iraq is not much different; Israel was established by European immigrants (with valid historical claim for the land, no doubt); there was also no such thing as Europe – a unified Europe – but now there is (for the time being); Syria has a historical claim on Lebanon that is not recognized by anyone; We can go on and on with such examples, all of them factually valid and practically useless.
So what was Gingrich trying to do? – I don’t know. Maybe he is trying to lure more ultra-hawkish Jewish donors to give money to his campaign. Maybe he’s trying to get under Mitt Romney’s skin by positioning himself where Romney can’t go (Romney is for a two state solution). Maybe he wants to bolster his image as the truth-telling candidate in a field of impostors. Maybe he thinks such a message would go down well with Evangelical Iowa voters. One thing I’m pretty sure he didn’t take into consideration: the advancement of peace in the Middle East.
All in all, this wasn’t exactly Gingrich’s finest hour. However, I’d like to think that some good could come out of it.
For long months now, the leadership of the Palestinian Authority is insistent in its refusal to renew negotiations with Israel. An attempt was made to circumvent the peace process by going to the UN – that ultimately failed. Another attempt was made to condition further talks on a freeze of settlement construction – again, failed. The PA rebuffed American and international expectation of “direct talks”, and negotiations are stalled. And yes, I know many people have plausible doubts as to the level of seriousness of the current Israeli government. And I know many people believe no Netanyahu-Lieberman government would go the necessary extra mile for peace. And clearly, the Obama administration has its own doubts and frustrations with Israel’s government. All these, though, do not justify a Palestinian recalcitrant refusal to talk. And ultimately, such a juvenile strategy leads to a juvenile response, the kind of response we heard from candidate Gingrich.
So what good can come out of it?
This is possibly a far-fetched assumption, but one might hope that statements like Gingrich’s might give Palestinians a taste of the possible negative outcomes of their current path of action. In recent months they seemed to be thinking that time is on their side, that Israel is becoming more isolated, that it is losing ground and support, that even Americans are starting to be impatient with Israel’s policies. They seem to be thinking that the current path serves them well, and maybe are waiting for a second Obama administration that could pressure Israel into submission without much regard for Presidential politics.
Enter Gingrich, to pour some cold water on such damaging assumptions. Yes, a second Obama administration might be more willing to push Israel around, but what happens in case Obama loses and Gingrich is the next President? What happens if the American position changes from “two state solution” to “no Palestinian people”?
If such a possibility makes Palestinian leaders pause and gamble on talks-now rather than wait-for-a-second-Obama later, if such a possibility outrages them but also scares them back into negotiation, than Gingrich, by being bad (and, let’s just say it, despicably offensive), might have done some good.