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US Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich offered an unapologetic defense of statements last month describing Palestinians as an “invented” people during the Republican debate in Florida on Thursday night.

In the debate – which also included former Massachusetts Governor and frontrunner, Mitt Romney, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and Congressman Ron Paul – the candidates were asked by Abraham Hassan, a member of the audience, how they would achieve peace in the Middle East. Hassan concluded his question with an allusion to Gingrich’s controversial statement, “As a Palestinian American Republican, I’m here to tell you, we do exist.”

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In response, Gingrich gave no ground, repeating that “it [the designation ‘Palestinian’] was technically an invention of the late 1970s. Prior to that they were Arabs.” Many Palestinians had migrated from Syria and Lebanon and Jordan, he added.

Gingrich said his goal for the Palestinians was for them “to live in peace and prosperity” and “have the dignity of a state,” but that these were impossible with genocidal elements governing the Palestinians and without Palestinian recognition of the Jewish state

“If I do become president,” Gingrich added, “I will sign an executive order directing the State Department to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to send the signal we’re with Israel.”

Romney also came out strongly in support of Israel in the debate, saying “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.”

In sharp comments directed at President Obama, Romney said “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.”

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