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History of ‘Palestine’ Becomes Center of GOP Debate

Posted By Ryan Mauro On December 12, 2011 @ 12:17 am In FrontPage | 26 Comments

The Republican presidential debate on Saturday took a surprising turn when Newt Gingrich was criticized by most of his rivals for saying that the Palestinians are an “invented” people. He stood by the statement, resulting in condemnation from the Arab League. Overall, there were no major stumbles by the candidates, and most pundits agree that Gingrich preserved his position as front-runner.

“The fact is, the Palestinian claim to a right of return is based on a historically false story. Somebody ought to have the courage to go all the way back to the 1921 League of Nations mandate for a Jewish homeland, point out the context in which Israel came into existence, and ‘Palestinian’ did not become a common term until after 1977,” Gingrich answered when a moderator asked him about the comment.

Mitt Romney said that Gingrich’s comment was “incendiary,” harmed Israel and that he should have consulted with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu before making it. He also accused Gingrich of speaking for Israel. Playing off of concerns over Gingrich’s electability, Romney said he isn’t a “bomb-thrower.” Rick Santorum said that Gingrich was correct, but the truth must be spoken with “prudence.” Ron Paul agreed that Gingrich is “technically” right, but said he was “stirring up trouble” overseas.

Michele Bachmann pivoted to tell a story about confronting Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad over the textbooks used in Palestinian schools. She said that he claimed that the hatred-filled textbooks had been discarded, so she showed him copies to prove him wrong. He then said that those were not in circulation and agreed to send her copies of the new textbooks. They never arrived. Rick Perry was the only one to defend Gingrich, saying that his comment is a “minor” issue blown up by the media.

“I will tell the truth, even if it’s at the risk of causing some confusion sometimes with the timid,” Gingrich rebutted.

David Horowitz, Dr. Daniel Pipes and Robert Spencer have come to Gingrich’s defense. Pipes writes that Gingrich is “absolutely correct: no Arabic-speaking Muslims identified themselves as ‘Palestinian’ until 1920 when, in rapid order this appellation and identity was adopted by the Muslim Arabs living in the British mandate of Palestine.”

Spencer pointed to a quote in 1977 from Zahir Muhsein, a member of the PLO executive committee: “The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity.”

There were other key moments in the debate. Mitt Romney struck Gingrich’s idea of mining for minerals on the moon, revising child labor laws so that young students can work in schools and eliminating the capital gains tax on the wealthy. He also said that Gingrich is a Washington D.C. insider. Gingrich drew the only boos of the night when he said that the only reason Romney isn’t a “career politician” is because he lost to Ted Kennedy in 1994. Romney joked that he’d be an NFL player if that worked out for him, too.

The other big moment was when Mitt Romney challenged Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet over whether his book really advocated a national health care system based on his model in Massachusetts. Some media pundits think it hurt Romney by bringing attention to his wealth and that it will be make for a useful Democratic attack ad if he is the nominee.

Michele Bachmann coined the term “Newt Romney” in criticizing the top two contenders as being inconsistent conservatives, such as on bailouts, health care and cap-and-trade. Gingrich said that “A lot of what she said is not true, period,” and “it is important to be accurate.” She made a transparent appeal to Herman Cain’s supporters, praising him in the beginning of the debate for his 9-9-9 plan (which she earlier criticized) and introduced her own “Win-Win-Win” plan.

Rick Perry walked the closest to using Gingrich’s marital history against him. He said that when he made his marriage vows, it was a vow to God and not just his wife. He added that he believes if someone will cheat on their wife, they’ll cheat on their business partner or anyone else. Bachmann also came close, mentioning that the Founding Fathers wrote in the Federalist Papers that the most important criteria for a leader is “the measure of the man.”

Perry emphasized foreign policy in the debate, criticizing President Obama for not retrieving or destroying the stealth drone that malfunctioned and landed in Iran. Russia and China will now have access to our top-secret technology, he said. Political analyst Larry Sabato tweeted that this was Perry’s best debate yet.

Ron Paul focused on small government and targeted Gingrich for taking money from Fannie-Mae and Freddie-Mac and acting as a lobbyist. He replied that he was only providing “strategic advice” as a consultant. Paul was pleased when, at the end of the debate, Perry and Romney said that they had learned from him. Gingrich also pointed out some of their common positions earlier in the debate.

Rick Santorum presented himself as a consistent conservative that can put Pennsylvania in play during the general election. He contrasted himself with Bachmann, saying that he fought and won battles in Congress but she has not.

The general consensus is that Gingrich did not lose any ground in the debate. Political analyst Dick Morris disagrees, opining that Romney appeared likeable and presidential while Gingrich seemed “washed out.” He predicted that the debate would close the gap between the two in the polls.

Chris Cillizza wrote in the Washington Post that Gingrich, Bachmann and Perry gained from the debate and Romney lost. Nate Silver seems to agree. He gave an “A” to Bachmann, “A-“ to Perry and Gingrich, “B+” to Santorum,” “B” to Paul and a “B-“ to Romney. Silver said that any one of the candidates on stage could potentially win the Iowa caucus on January 3.

There is only one debate left before the voting begins, minus the Gingrich-Huntsman debate on December 12 and the debate moderated by Donald Trump on the 27th that is likely to be canceled. The final pre-Iowa debate is Thursday, December 15 and for most of the candidates, it is the most important one of the campaign. Expect fireworks.

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