Expert: Gingrich's Palestine comments "inflammatory"

BY SAM LANE | DECEMBER 12, 2011 7:20 AM

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DES MOINES — One foreign-policy expert said Iowa caucus candidate Newt Gingrich's statement that Palestinians are "an invented people" is "inflammatory."

The remark — which Gingrich made last week during an interview with the Jewish Channel — came under fire at this past weekend's GOP presidential debate in Des Moines.

"Is what I said factually correct? Yes. Is it historically true? Yes," Gingrich said, defending himself during the debate at Drake University. "Are we in a situation where, every day, rockets are fired into Israel while the United States, the current administration, tries to pressure the Israelis into a peace process?"

Judith Kipper, the director of Middle East Programs for the Institute of World Affairs, decried the statement.

"I think that particular statement was extremely unfortunate," she said. "Though [candidates] are fighting to win a race domestically, they have to be careful and sensitive about what is going to inflame the conflict. That statement was definitely inflammatory."

During the debate, both Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney attacked Gingrich's statements.

Romney called the comments a mistake and said such statements make matters more difficult for Israel.

"We stand with the Israeli people, stand with our friends, and make it very clear: We're going to tell the truth, but we're not going to throw incendiary words into a place that is a boiling pot when our friends, the Israelis, would probably say, 'What in the world are you doing?' " Romney said.

Gingrich responded by saying he's not making life more difficult for Israel, nor is he trying to speak for the country.

Paul, who has frequently called for limiting U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts, said Gingrich's statement is historically correct, but is an example of the reason the country gets "involved in so many messes."

"This idea that we can be the policemen of the world and settle all these disputes, I mean, soon we'll have to quit because we're flat-out broke," Paul said. "But we cannot continue to get into these issues like this and getting ourselves into more trouble."

The United States appropriated nearly $3 billion in funding for Israel for fiscal 2011, according to the Congressional Budget Justification on foreign assistance. That figure has risen each of the last four years, and Congress has requested nearly $3.1 billion for fiscal 2012.

Kipper said there's "nothing new" in the financial request and said America and Israel have been close allies for 60 years.

"The United States has always supported Israel's existence," she said. "It's a very profound commitment. It doesn't mean that Americans support every policy Israel follows. And every relationship has strains."

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