Mike Huckabee has revived the incendiary notion that there's no such thing as a Palestinian people, repeating an assertion that has been condemned by a wide spectrum of historians and political analysts.
The likely Republican presidential hopeful made the claim in an interview with the Washington Post, for the paper's story on Huckabee's guided tours of Israel. (Price tag: $5,250.) Tourists have the opportunity to hear from guest lecturers, including Zionist Organization of America president Morton Klein. The Post reports that Klein told Huckabee's group that the idea of a Palestinian people is a fiction -- a declaration with which Huckabee readily concurred.
“The idea that they have a long history, dating back hundreds or thousands of years, is not true,” the former Arkansas governor and Fox News host told the Post.
This isn't the first time Huckabee has advanced the idea. “I have to be careful saying this, because people get really upset — there’s really no such thing as a Palestinian,” Huckabee told a Massachusetts rabbi during his 2008 presidential campaign. “That’s been a political tool to try to force land away from Israel.”
Newt Gingrich echoed Huckabee's remarks in 2011, proclaiming that "we’ve had invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab community." Gingrich's remarks attracted more than the predictable condemnation from Palestinian officials, also drawing derision from Israeli historians and Mitt Romney, Gingrich's GOP presidential rival.
As David Remnick outlines, the Huckabee-Gingrich school of Palestinian history is grounded in claims put forth by the late polemicist Joan Peters in her 1984 tome “From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine." Peters' book accepted former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir's declaration that there's "no such thing as a Palestinian people," arguing that the people who call themselves Palestinians don't have deep roots in the territory. Remnick notes that even the conservative author Daniel Pipes, whose initial reaction to Peters' book was a favorable one, would later concede that Peters was guilty of sloppy scholarship and "ignor[ing] inconvenient facts."
Of course, there's no getting around the fact that the Palestinians are ultimately an imagined nation. But all nationalisms, by definition, are historical constructions. They were not foreordained by the Almighty. (The Rev. Huckabee acknowledges as much, does he not?) The Palestinians may not have existed from time immemorial, to coin a phrase, but neither did the Americans or the French or the Palauans. Yet the Palestinians exist now, and that's a politico-diplomatic reality with which a President Huckabee would have to reckon. His unwillingness to do so reveals him to be either embarrassingly ignorant or deeply dishonest.