Last Friday, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, did something revolutionary. He told the truth about the Palestinians. In an interview with The Jewish Channel, Gingrich said that the Palestinians are an “invented” people, “who are in fact Arabs.”
His statement about the Palestinians was entirely accurate. At the end of 1920, the “Palestinian people” was artificially carved out of the Arab population of “Greater Syria.” “Greater Syria” included present-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. That is, the Palestinian people were invented 91 years ago. Moreover, as Gingrich noted, the term “Palestinian people” only became widely accepted after 1977.
As Daniel Pipes chronicled in a 1989 article on the subject in The Middle East Quarterly, the local Arabs in what became Israel opted for a local nationalistic “Palestinian” identity in part due to their sense that their brethren in Syria were not sufficiently committed to the eradication of Zionism.
Since Gingrich spoke out on Friday, his factually accurate statement has been under assault from three directions. First, it has been attacked by Palestinian apologists in the postmodernist camp. Speaking to CNN, Hussein Ibish from the American Task Force on Palestine argued that Gingrich’s statement was an outrage because while he was right about the Palestinians being an artificial people, in Ibish’s view, Israelis were just as artificial. That is, he equated the Palestinians’ 91-year-old nationalism with the Jews’ 3,500-year-old nationalism.
In his words, “To call the Palestinians ‘an invented people’ in an obvious effort to undermine their national identity is outrageous, especially since there was no such thing as an ‘Israeli’ before 1948.”
Ibish’s nonsense is easily dispatched by a simple reading of the Hebrew Bible. As anyone semi-literate in Hebrew recognizes, the Israelis were not created in 1948. Three thousand years ago, the Israelis were led by a king named David. The Israelis had an independent commonwealth in the Land of Israel, and their capital city was Jerusalem.
The fact that 500 years ago King James renamed the Israelis “Israelites” is irrelevant to the basic truth that there is nothing new or artificial about the Israeli people. And Zionism, the Jewish national liberation movement, did not arise in competition with Arab nationalism. Zionism has been a central feature of Jewish identity for 3,500 years.
THE SECOND line of attack against Gingrich denies the veracity of his claim. Palestinian luminaries like the PA’s unelected Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told CNN, “The Palestinian people inhabited the land since the dawn of history.”
Fayyad’s historically unsubstantiated claim was further expounded on by Fatah Revolutionary Council member Dmitri Diliani in an interview with CNN. “The Palestinian people [are] descended from the Canaanite tribe of the Jebusites that inhabited the ancient site of Jerusalem as early as 3200 BCE,” Diliani asserted,
The Land of Israel has the greatest density of archeological sites in the world. Judea, Samaria, the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan Heights and other areas of the country are packed with archeological evidence of the Jewish commonwealths. As for Jerusalem, literally every inch of the city holds physical proof of the Jewish people’s historical claims to the city.
To date, no archeological or other evidence has been found linking the Palestinians to the city or the Jebusites.
From a US domestic political perspective, the third line of attack against Gingrich’s factual statement has been the most significant. The attacks involve conservative Washington insiders, many of whom are outspoken supporters of Gingrich’s principal rival for the Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
To date, the attackers’ most outspoken representative has been Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin. These insiders argue that although Gingrich spoke the truth, it was irresponsible and unstatesmanlike for him to have done so.
As Rubin put it on Monday, “Do conservatives really think it is a good idea for their nominee to reverse decades of US policy and deny there is a Palestinian national identity?”
In their view, Gingrich is an irresponsible flamethrower because he is turning his back on a 30- year bipartisan consensus. That consensus is based on ignoring the fact that the Palestinians are an artificial people whose identity sprang not from any shared historical experience, but from opposition to Jewish nationalism.
The policy goal of the consensus is to establish an independent Palestinian state west of the Jordan River that will live at peace with Israel.
This policy was obsessively advanced throughout the 1990s until it failed completely in 2000, when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected then-prime minister Ehud Barak’s and then US president Bill Clinton’s offer of Palestinian statehood and began the Palestinian terror war against Israel.
BUT RATHER than acknowledge that the policy – and the embrace of Palestinian national identity at its heart – had failed, and consider other options, the US policy establishment in Washington clung to it for dear life. Republicans like Rubin’s mentor, former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, went on to support enthusiastically Israel’s surrender of Gaza in 2005, and to push for Hamas participation in the 2006 Palestinian elections. That withdrawal and those elections catapulted the jihadist terror group to power.
The consensus that Gingrich rejected by telling the truth about the artificial nature of Palestinian nationalism was based on an attempt to square popular support for Israel with the elite’s penchant for appeasement. On the one hand, due to overwhelming public support for a strong US alliance with Israel, most US policy-makers have not dared to abandon Israel as a US ally.
On the other hand, American policy-makers have been historically uncomfortable having to champion Israel to their anti-Israel European colleagues and to their Arab interlocutors who share the Palestinians’ rejection of Israel’s right to exist.
The policy of seeking to meld an anti-Israel Arab appeasement policy with a pro-Israel anti-appeasement policy was embraced by successive US administrations until it was summarily discarded by President Barack Obama three years ago. Obama replaced the two-headed policy with one of pure Arab appeasement.
Obama was able to justify his move because the two-pronged policy had failed. There was no peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The price of oil had skyrocketed, and US interests throughout the region were increasingly threatened.
For its part, Israel was far more vulnerable to terror and war than it had been in years. And its diplomatic isolation was acute and rising.
Unfortunately for both the US and Israel, Obama’s break with the consensus has destabilized the region, endangered Israel and imperiled US interests to a far greater degree than they had been under the failed dual-track policy of his predecessors. Throughout the Arab world, Islamist forces are on the rise.
Iran is on the verge of becoming a nuclear power.
The US is no longer seen as a credible regional power as it pulls its forces out of Iraq without victory, hamstrings its forces in Afghanistan, dooming them to attrition and defeat, and abandons its allies in country after country.
The stark contrast between Obama’s rejection of the failed consensus on the one hand and Gingrich’s rejection of the failed consensus on the other hand indicates that Gingrich may well be the perfect foil for Obama.
Gingrich’s willingness to state and defend the truth about the nature of the Palestinian conflict with Israel is the perfect response to Obama’s disastrous speech “to the Muslim world” in Cairo in June 2009. It was in that speech that Obama officially abandoned the bipartisan consensus, abandoned Israel and the truth about Zionism and Jewish national rights, and embraced completely the lie of Palestinian nationalism and national rights.
Both Rubin and Abrams, as well as Romney, justified their attacks on Gingrich and their defense of the failed consensus by noting that no Israeli leaders are saying what Gingrich said. Rubin went so far as to allege that Gingrich’s words of truth about the Palestinians hurt Israel.
This is of course absurd. What many Americans fail to recognize is that Israeli leaders are not as free to tell the truth about the nature of the conflict as American leaders are. Rather than look to Israel for leadership on this issue, American leaders would do well to view Israel as the equivalent of West Germany during the Cold War. With half of Berlin occupied by the Red Army and West Berlin serving as the tripwire for a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, West German leaders were not as free to tell the truth about the Soviet Union as American leaders were.
Today, with Jerusalem under constant political and terror threat, with all of Israel increasingly encircled by Islamist regimes, and with the Obama administration abandoning traditional US support for Israel, it is becoming less and less reasonable to expect Israel to take the rhetorical lead in telling important and difficult truths about the nature of its neighbors.
When Romney criticized Gingrich’s statement as unhelpful to Israel, Gingrich replied, “I feel quite confident that an amazing number of Israelis found it nice to have an American tell the truth about the war they are in the middle of, and the casualties they are taking and the people around them who say, ‘They do not have a right to exist and we want to destroy them.'”
And he is absolutely right. It was more than nice. It was heartening.
Thirty years of pre-Obama American lying about the nature of the conflict in an attempt to balance support for Israel with appeasement of the Arabs did not make the US safer or the Middle East more peaceful. A return to that policy under a new Republican president will not be sufficient to restore stability and security to the region.
And the need for such a restoration is acute. Under Obama, the last three years of US abandonment of the truth about Israel for Palestinian lies has made the region less stable, Israel more vulnerable, the US less respected and US interests more threatened.
Gingrich’s statement of truth was not an act of irresponsible flame throwing. It was the beginning of an antidote to Obama’s abandonment of truth and reason in favor of lies and appeasement. And as such, it was not a cause for anger. It was a cause for hope.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.