Republican White House hopeful Newt Gingrich said in an interview out on Friday that the Palestinians are an "invented" people and mocked President Barack Obama's effort to be a fair broker of Middle East peace.
"If I'm even-handed between a civilian democracy that obeys the rule of law and a group of terrorists that are firing missiles every day, that's not even-handed, that's favouring the terrorists," said Gingrich.
The former House speaker, who has surged in public opinion polls to grab frontrunner status, also charged that the Palestinian Authority shares the militant Islamist Hamas movement's "enormous desire to destroy Israel."
Gingrich's attack on the Palestinian Authority, which formally recognises Israel's right to exist, came in an interview with The Jewish Channel.
Obama and his aides "lie to themselves" about the Middle East conflict and are "out of touch with reality," he said.
Asked whether he was a Zionist, Gingrich replied that "the Jewish people have the right to a state" and cast doubt on the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations for a state of their own.
"We've had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and 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 I think it's tragic," he said.
That remarks drew a swift rebuke from a spokesperson for the American Task Force on Palestine, Hussein Ibish, who said "there was no Israel and no such thing as an 'Israeli people' before 1948."
"So the idea that Palestinians are 'an invented people' while Israelis somehow are not is historically indefensible and inaccurate. Such statements seem to merely reflect deep historical ignorance and an irrational hostility towards Palestinian identity and nationalism," he said.
Gingrich also declared his world view was "pretty close" to that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and vowed to take "a much more tougher-minded, and much more honest approach to the Middle East" if elected.
And he said that it was "delusional" to consider stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks a true peace process.