(HuffingtonPost).Newt Gingrich's questioning of the "authenticity" of the Palestinian people and even whether they should be classified as a group has sparked a sharp debate within the Republican Party.
On Monday, a political operative who has been working on Palestine-Israel policy for the past 20 years sent The Huffington Post a picture of Gingrich, then the House minority whip, grasped the hand of longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat immediately following the September 1993 Oslo peace accords.
The embrace, the source said, came after Arafat met with 20 to 25 House leaders over coffee. Jotting notes down in a yellow pad, Gingrich used the meeting to pitch Arafat on how best to actually construct a Palestinian state. "He said, 'Look, here is what I think you need -- an economic plan – and here is how it will work,'" the operative recalled. "It was a very positive contribution at the time and as they stood up, there were pictures."
In the background of the picture is Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), a long-serving Arab-American congressman, whose office confirmed that the meeting did take place.
"I think if the elected head of the Israeli government and the leader of the PLO can find a way to get together and if they are joined by, as it seems possible, Jordan and maybe even some concessions by Syria, I think it would be pretty ridiculous for us to then back off and not at least try to help them make it happen," Gingrich told CNN ten days before that photo was taken. "I don't think we should pressure Israel. But if Israel decides -- the Israeli government decides it's going to try to do something, I don't think we ought to be in the position to block it."
But the situation was fragile. By March 1994, Gingrich and others were urging President Clinton to veto a UN resolution that referred to Jerusalem as occupied territory.
With Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, the peace process only became more fraught. In April 1997, Gingrich was accusing Arafat of manipulating U.S. media organizations into "serving as [his[ witting or unwitting ally." Addressing the conservative, pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, he concluded that Arafat was "Israel's so-called partner in the peace process ... More than three years after Oslo, he still has not fulfilled his promise to amend the PLO charter and remove its call for the destruction of Israel."
By 1998, Gingrich was accusing Secretary of State Madeleine Albright of behaving as "an agent for the Palestinians" in renewed peace negotiations. U.S. diplomats complained that the Speaker was causing serious headaches even as he met, once more, with Arafat.