Re: Gingrich and the “Invented People”

Newt Gingrich has created a lot of waves by saying:

“Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. We have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab people, and they had the chance to go many places.”

Is Newt right? As Jonathan Tobin noted, he is historically accurate. There was no widespread sense of Palestinian nationhood until the last few decades. In fact, there was such widespread apathy among the Palestinians that Yasser Arafat and the PLO initially had little luck in mobilizing a revolt against Israeli rule. Arabs in Israel proper have been largely peaceful to this day. Even in the West Bank and Gaza Strip there was no widespread uprising until the First Intifada in
1987. Until then, the Palestinian cause was largely championed by outsiders—either other Arabs or Palestinians in exile like Arafat (who was in all likelihood born in Egypt). Many, perhaps most “Palestinians” were willing to make accommodations with Israeli rule as they had previously made accommodations with Egyptians, Jordanians, Ottomans and other rulers.

But the fact that Palestinian identity is largely an invention and has not existed for all time hardly makes the Palestinians unique. All national identity is to some extent invented. Britain, France, Italy, Germany, the United States: all are artificial entities that had to be forged over time. The process of state formation in the last three was relatively recent—the U.S. did not come into existence until 1776 and was arguably not a truly unified nation until 1865; Italy and Germany were created at roughly the same time. Britain and France are older, but they still had to be forged out of regional identities—the process of turning “Burgundians” and “Normans” into Frenchmen took centuries.