Herb Keinon
The Jerusalem Post
December 13, 2011 - 1:00am

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, not known for reticence in making right-wing pronouncements or speaking his mind, opted Monday not to share his thoughts on US Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s recent remark that the Palestinians are an “invented” people.

After spending the better part of a press conference Monday defending recent comments he made in Russia about the legitimacy of the elections there, Lieberman – when asked by The Jerusalem Post about Gingrich’s comments – laughed and said he did not want to interfere in the internal matters of another country.

Gingrich, now the Republican front-runner, said Friday in an interview with The Jewish Channel that there “was no Palestine as a state.”

“I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and it’s tragic,” he said.

Lieberman’s refusal to respond to Gingrich’s words was telling. Even though he, or other cabinet ministers, may agree with the sentiment, they are – for the most part – carefully avoiding any response to it. The only cabinet minister who has so far publicly supported Gingrich was Lieberman’s colleague from Israel Beiteinu, National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau.

An official in the Prime Minister’s Office, asked Saturday night about Gingrich’s statement, said it was obvious that Israel would not respond to the remarks.

Gingrich, meanwhile, has been lambasted for his words, from everyone from the Arab League, to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, to Republican opponents Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. If Gingrich was looking for some backing for the sentiment, he wouldn’t find it in Israel’s Foreign Ministry or the Prime Minister’s Office.

The reason, diplomatic officials explained – anonymously – is that Israel has nothing to gain by inserting itself into the current US presidential debate.

“Anything we would say would be used against us,” one official said “Any comment would either insult Gingrich, insult Romney, or insult the Democrats. So why say anything?” The official said that Israel’s lack of response to this comment was similar to its history of not commenting when US presidential candidates – from Bill Clinton to John McCain – made comments during the campaign about moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.

“If Gingrich is elected and then makes this statement, then we would comment,” the official said. “Not a minute before.”

The official said Gingrich’s comment, which signals a rejection of the widely accepted historical narrative about the conflict, needed stronger, more academic arguments of support than the ones the presidential candidate presented during his interview.

The official added that it was ironic the Palestinians were aghast at Gingrich’s statement, since PA President Mahmoud Abbas – during his recent speech to the UN – denied any Jewish connection to Israel.

While Arab spokesmen may acknowledge a Jewish religion, they do not generally recognize the Jews as a people entitled to a state.

Another government official, relating to why Israel’s leaders have remained completely quiet about Gingrich’s comments, said “the worst thing for Israel would be if its support in the US would become a partisan issue.”

Israel, he said, does not want to interject itself into the domestic US political campaign in any form.


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