A senior Arab League official condemned on Sunday a statement by Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich claiming Palestinians are an "invented" people, calling it racist and a cheap stunt to get votes.
However Israeli Cabinet minister Uzi Landau said Gingrich was "right." He claimed the Palestinians do not have their own language or culture, and are instead part of the broader Arab world.
Gingrich also called Palestinians "terrorists." The comments struck at the heart of Palestinian sensitivities about the righteousness of their struggle for an independent state. Applying the label "invented" suggests that the Palestinian quest for independence is not legitimate. He later sought to clarify his position, with his spokesman saying he supports the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a negotiated settlement with Israel.
"If an Arab or Palestinian official said a racist comment that was one-millionth of what this U.S. candidate said, the world would have been in continuous uproar," said Mohammed Sobeih, the Arab League official who handles Palestinian affairs. Gingrich's comments were "irresponsible and dangerous," he added.
"If these comments were made for political gains, then this is an even bigger disaster. But it appears that this is a cheap attempt to get more votes in an election," said Sobeih. "And to get this small number of votes, this person sold America's interests by denying international law and democratic principles."
In Israel, a couple hard-line politicians welcomed Gingrich's comments.
However Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the minister Landau was speaking for himself and did not represent official government policy. He added the government would not comment on the statements because they were part of an "internal American political campaign."
Danny Danon, deputy speaker of Israel's parliament and a minority voice among his hawkish Likud party, said Gingrich "understands very well the reality we live in in the Middle East."
Many in Israel support the idea of an independent Palestine alongside Israel and recognize the Palestinian struggle for independence.
Associated Press reporters Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem contributed to this report.