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Clinton: Gingrich Palestinian comment not helpful

Republican presidential candidate Gingrich participates in debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester
Republican presidential candidate Gingrich participates in debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester

By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Newt Gingrich's comment that the Palestinians are an "invented people" was unhelpful, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday, saying the Republican presidential candidate had realized this.

Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, stirred controversy on Friday when told the Jewish Channel cable television broadcaster he saw the Palestinians as an invented people who want to destroy Israel.

"Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire" until the early 20th century, Gingrich said in the interview.

"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.

Asked by PBS Newshour Executive Editor Jim Lehrer at an event on economic innovation whether Gingrich's comment about the Palestinians being an "invented people" was helpful, Clinton replied: "No."

"I think he recognized that from what I read," she added, speaking at an event on Innovation and the Global Marketplace. "I think he realized that was you know one of those innovative moments that happen."

Gingrich along with other Republican candidates are seeking to attract Jewish support for the November 2012 elections by vowing to bolster U.S. ties with Israel.

Gingrich said the Hamas militant group, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinians' governing body, the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, represent "an enormous desire to destroy Israel."

The U.S. government has sought to encourage the Palestinian Authority to negotiate with Israel but has labeled Hamas as a terrorist group.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has long forsworn violence against Israel as a means to secure an independent state, pinning his hopes first on negotiations and more recently on a unilateral bid for statehood via the United Nations.

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