In tonight’s Florida debate, Abraham Hassan, a Palestinian American, asked the GOP candidates how they would bring about peace in the Middle East — and added, "As a Palestinian American Republican, I’m here to tell you, we do exist."
The reference was to Newt Gingrich’s claim last month that the Palestinians are an "invented people."
What I first wondered — having learned of the largish Palestinian American population in Jacksonville, Fla. some years ago — is why any of them are Republican.
Okay, so I wondered that for maybe a minute or two. To suggest that Mr. Hassan’s views would be solely shaped by how his party speaks of his people would be to buy into theories that Jews vote only on Israel — and they don’t. Arab Americans voted mostly GOP before Sept. 11 2001 and the effect it had on their civil liberties. The community typically embodies the party’s profile as attracting conservative, family values small businessmen and women.
Hassan’s question drew two of the more engaging answers of the evening, at least in terms of the candidates’ delivery.
Here’s Mitt Romney; the rough transcript is mine, the video is from BreitbartTV (interesting Breitbart would post Romney’s response and not Gingrich’s.)
HASSAN: Abraham Hassan from Jacksonville, Florida. How would a Republican administration help bring peace to Palestine and Israel when most candidates barely recognize the existence of Palestine or its people? As a Palestinian American Republican I’m here to tell you we do exist.
ROMNEY: Well, the reason that there’s not peace between the Palestinians and Israel is because there is in the leadership of the Palestinian people are Hamas and others who think like Hamas who have as their intent the elimination of Israel.
And whether it’s in schoolbooks that teach how to kill Jews, or whether it’s in the political discourse that is spoken either from Fatah or from Hamas, there is a belief that the Jewish people do not have a right to have a Jewish state.
There are some people who say should we have a two state solution, and the Israelis would be happy to have a two state solution. It’s the Palestinians who don’t want a two state solution, they want to eliminate the state of Israel.
And I believe America must say the best way to have peace in the Middle East is not for us to vacillate and appease, but it is to say we stand with our friend Israel.
We are committed to a Jewish state in israel. We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally Israel.
This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements. He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip.
This president threw (applause) … I think he threw Israel under the bus with regards to defining the 67 borders as the starting point of negotiations.
I think he disrespected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bibi Netanyahu.
I think he has time and time again shown distance from Israel and that has created in my view a greater sense of aggression on the part of the Palestinians.
I will stand with our friend Israel.
First, kudos to Romney for getting the formulation of Obama’s May 19 speech exactly right. It shouldn’t be, perhaps, in a political utopia, but it is a relief to see a candidate — in the heat of a political season no less — not get sucked into popular distortions. Obama did not in his speech say Israel must return to the 1967 lines, as many have had it; he said, as Romney put it, that they should be the basis for negotiations.
That said, I’m not sure what U.N. speech by Obama Romney is referring to. The Republican Jewish Coalition, in a Tweet, said it is this one, from 2009:
But this speech mentions — contra Romney — the rockets and Palestinian incitement as well as the settlements. My bold:
I will also continue to seek a just and lasting peace between Israel, Palestine, and the Arab world. (Applause.) We will continue to work on that issue. Yesterday, I had a constructive meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. We have made some progress. Palestinians have strengthened their efforts on security. Israelis have facilitated greater freedom of movement for the Palestinians. As a result of these efforts on both sides, the economy in the West Bank has begun to grow. But more progress is needed. We continue to call on Palestinians to end incitement against Israel, and we continue to emphasize that America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. (Applause.)
The time has come — the time has come to re-launch negotiations without preconditions that address the permanent status issues: security for Israelis and Palestinians, borders, refugees, and Jerusalem. And the goal is clear: Two states living side by side in peace and security — a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people. (Applause.)
As we pursue this goal, we will also pursue peace between Israel and Lebanon, Israel and Syria, and a broader peace between Israel and its many neighbors. In pursuit of that goal, we will develop regional initiatives with multilateral participation, alongside bilateral negotiations.
Now, I am not naïve. I know this will be difficult. But all of us — not just the Israelis and the Palestinians, but all of us — must decide whether we are serious about peace, or whether we will only lend it lip service. To break the old patterns, to break the cycle of insecurity and despair, all of us must say publicly what we would acknowledge in private. The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians. (Applause.) And — and nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks against Israel over constructive willingness to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and its right to exist in peace and security. (Applause.)
We must remember that the greatest price of this conflict is not paid by us. It’s not paid by politicians. It’s paid by the Israeli girl in Sderot who closes her eyes in fear that a rocket will take her life in the middle of the night. It’s paid for by the Palestinian boy in Gaza who has no clean water and no country to call his own. These are all God’s children. And after all the politics and all the posturing, this is about the right of every human being to live with dignity and security. That is a lesson embedded in the three great faiths that call one small slice of Earth the Holy Land. And that is why, even though there will be setbacks and false starts and tough days, I will not waver in my pursuit of peace. (Applause.)
I’ll try to find video and transcript of the Gingrich reply tomorrow.
He repeated his pledge to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem on his first day as president. He noted that 11 rockets from Gaza landed in Israel in November, and asked the audience how they would cope with 11 rockets in Duval County — an effective response, considering how Hassan had essentially made it a local question by introducing himself as a resident of Jacksonville.
Hassan’s "we exist" implicated Gingrich’s claim last month that the Palestinians are an invented people. Dealing with this, Gingrich at first repeated the claim that the Palestinian people "was technically an invention of the late 1970s," although the PLO has existed since 1964 and Palestinian nationalists were calling themselves that dating at least back to the 1940s (when the Palestinian flag made its first appearance.) He also said that many Palestinians had migrated from Syria and Lebanon and Jordan to the area — an interesting claim, considering that these nations (like virtually all nations at one time or another, including the United States) could be considered colonial inventions.
Gingrich soon hit his groove, though, and said his goal — once the Palestinians recognized Israel’s right to exist — would be for the Palestinian people "to live in peace and prosperity" and to "have the dignity of a state"
Here’s the video of Gingrich: