The Israeli-Palestinian conflict featured prominently in last night’s Republican presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa. However, much of what was said by the candidates had little or no basis in fact. The following is a review of some of those statements.
1. GINGRICH CALLS PALESTINIANS AN "INVENTED PEOPLE"
The claim: During the debate, former House speaker Newt Gingrich said he stands by his assertion that Palestinians are an “invented people.” Gingrich had made those remarks in an interview with a Jewish television channel, during a discussion of the origins of the state of Israel: “Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places.”
The facts: While the land historically known as Palestine was ruled for centuries by the Ottoman Empire, the Palestinians are no more an “invented” nation than Egyptians, Jordanians, Mexican, or Americans. Like any other people, the Palestinians have a distinct history, culture, distinct dialect, institutions, and traditions.
By saying that Palestinians “had a chance to go many places,” Gingrich appears to be excusing the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 by arguing that displaced Palestinians should have been absorbed by surrounding Arab countries. This false assertion ignores the right of Palestinians, or of any group of people, to live in their own homes in their country of origin.
The verdict: FALSE
2. GINGRICH: NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HAMAS AND FATAH
The claim: Gingrich claimed there is politically no difference between Hamas and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, claiming that both deny Israel’s right to exist.
Gingrich backed up this assertion by saying: "The Palestinian Authority's ambassador to India last month said there is no difference between Fatah and Hamas; we both agree Israel has no right to exist.
The facts: Hamas and Fatah are two distinct political movements with different histories and philosophies. Fatah is a secular nationalist group co-founded by Yasser Arafat in 1959, while Hamas, an Islamist offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, did not emerge until the 1980s.
Gingrich’s reference to the PA ambassador’s comments were apparently sourced to right-wing settler-run website Palestinian Media Watch, which quoted ambassador Adli Sadeq saying Israel “never had any shred of a right to exist.” Sadeq’s comments, however, do not reflect the policies of the Fatah government in the West Bank.
The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which manages some aspects of Palestinian life in the parts of the West Bank not under direct Israeli control, formally recognizes Israel’s right to exist and engages in multiple levels of cooperation with the Israeli government, including security coordination with the Israeli military.
Hamas, which manages some aspects of Palestinian life in Gaza, formally does not recognize Israel, and rejects direct contact with the state. However, Hamas leaders have said for several years they would be willing to accept a long-term truce with Israel on the basis of its 1967 borders. Hamas also sometimes negotiates indirectly with Israel, most recently in the case of a prisoner exchange.
The verdict: FALSE
3. GINGRICH SAYS TERROR TAUGHT IN PALESTINIAN SCHOOLS
The claim: While defending his earlier statement that Palestinians are an “invented” people, Gingrich also said, “These people are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools.
The facts: Like his claim about the PA ambassador’s comments, this statement is also based on materials produced by the group Palestinian Media Watch, and has no basis in fact.
The founder and head of PMW, Itamar Marcus, is a right-wing Israeli living in the settlement of Efrat in the occupied West Bank in violation of international law. As a colonist living illegally on stolen Palestinian land, Marcus has a vested interest in promulgating an image of Palestinians as violent extremists. Prior to founding PMW, Marcus was the head of the discredited Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, which purported to track incitement in Palestinian textbooks. Professor Nathan Brown of George Washington University, who has studied Palestinian textbooks extensively, judged that CMIP’s work relied “on misleading and tendentious reports to support their claim of incitement."
Xavier Abu Eid, a senior adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization told The Guardian on Sunday that Gingrich’s claim about Palestinian schoolbooks was baseless.
He told the newspaper: "[Gingrich] is welcome to come to Palestine so he can stop speaking from talking points and speak about reality. If he can produce a Palestinian textbook that proves his point, then he should do it. But they don't exist in our schools – he's quoting propaganda. It's very cheap what he's doing and not behavior appropriate for a presidential candidate.
"If you ask any 13-year-old Palestinian child, he will know there is a state called Israel. Go and see if you can find an Israeli kid of the same age who can find a green line [marking the border between Israel and occupied Palestinian territory] in his textbook," he also said.
The verdict: FALSE
4. ROMNEY ON OBAMA'S 1967 COMMENT
The claim: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney made this characterization of President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy: “This president decided he was going to try and negotiate for Israel by saying, lets go back to the '67 borders. That's not what Israel wanted to hear.”
The facts: In a speech on May 19, 2011, Obama said, “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”
Three days later, in his address at the annual conference of Israel lobby group AIPAC, Obama clarified what he meant by “mutually agreed swaps,” saying: “By definition, it means that the parties themselves -– Israelis and Palestinians -– will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation.
Obama's formal statement endorsing 1967 borders is not a policy shift. The Israelis themselves explicitly agreed to 1967 borders with modifications as the basis of negotiations in the 2001 Taba talks. And 1967 borders have been the assumed basis of discussions ever since the Oslo process began in 1993.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (during his current administration) was the first to refuse to utter the phrase "1967 lines," tantamount to throwing out all progress in border negotiations to date. In response, the Palestinian side asked the U.S. to reiterate explicitly its long-standing policy of 1967 borders as the basis of talks.
While it’s not clear what Romney meant, it is a misleading to say that Obama requested or told Israel to retreat to the 1967 borders, which would mean ending the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
The verdict: FALSE
Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP