JERUSALEM, Israel -- Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich came under scrutiny recently for saying the Palestinians are an "invented people." But Israelis say he's right.
"There was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think we've had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and were historically part of the Arab community," the former House speaker said during an interview with The Jewish Channel, Dec. 9.
"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 added.
Gingrich's comments drew fire from the Arab League, Palestinians, news media and other political contenders.
"[It] shows how ignorant is he on the history of the Middle East and the Palestinian people," said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "The Palestinian people had been living in this area for thousands of years."
Gingrich defended himself in a weekend debate.
"Is what I said factually correct? Yes. Is it historically true? Yes," he said.
Israeli National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau agreed that Gingrich has his facts straight.
"He's right about the Palestinian entity," Landau said.
"There's never been a Palestinian nation," he added. "There's never been a Palestinian state, no Palestinian language, no Palestinian special culture, which is no different than the Arab culture, but the Arabs have made that a political issue."
The issue is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since Palestinians use their claim to undermine the Jewish connection to the land of Israel.
The ancient Romans first called the disputed area Syria-Palestina in 135 A.D. They wanted to wipe out any Jewish claim to the land after they had killed or driven out most of the Jewish population.
The Ottoman Turks called the land Palestine.
"Palestine and Jordan were bureaucratic names the Ottomans used to specify their administration with no national roots whatsoever," explained Palestinian Affairs expert Pinhas Inbari, from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Inbari said there never was a Palestinian people.
"The Palestinians are Arabs who came to Palestine from all around. Some of them came from Egypt. They are called Masarweh or Masri. Some of them came from the Horan, from Syria of today," Inbari told CBN News.
In fact, 70 years ago before Israel's independence in 1948, it was Jews -- not Arabs -- who were known as Palestinians. That's reflected in an excerpt from the famous 1960 movie Exodus:
At the camp for Jewish refugees in Cyprus, Maj. Caldwell explains to Mrs. Freemont that Zionist organizations send their people over from Palestine to run the camp.
Caldwell introduces her to Ben-Ami saying, "Ben-Ami is one of the Palestinians who run this camp."
"The Arabs did not identify themselves, [in] those days as Palestinians," Inbari said. "The Palestinians were the Zionists."