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Why Israelis may not be thrilled by sweet nothings from Gingrich, GOP

As the GOP candidates, led by Newt Gingrich, work to outdo each other on supporting Israel, Israelis recognize the difference between campaigning and statecraft.

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Republican presidential candidate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich takes part in the Republican debate, Saturday, in Des Moines, Iowa. At the debate Gingrich said, "'Palestinian' did not become a common term until after 1977" -- a statement contradicted by, among other things, the formation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964.

Charlie Neibergall/AP

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Israelis have grown accustomed to being the object of affection by US politicians and a stop on the campaigns of aspiring candidates over the past decade.

But the recent one-upmanship in the Republican primary on Israel has taken the debate into new territory. Newt Gingrich’s declaration that the Palestinians are an "invented" people potentially put him further to the right of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom Mitt Romney then name dropped in promising to stay on the same page with the government.

An embarrassment of diplomatic riches for Israel? Not necessarily.

The ideological solidarity and lavish promises of support by the candidates are likely to be taken with a grain of salt. Israelis understand that when it comes time to set foreign policy it may be difficult to break with the past precedent, says Nachman Shai, a parliament member from the opposition Kadima Party.

"I am not in a position to judge, this is what they feel works best for them," he says. "This is an American election, not an Israeli election."

Republicans have promised to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, symbolically recognizing Israel's claim of the city as its capital. But the remark made by Mr. Gingrich is likely to resonate with many Israelis who still cast doubt on the Palestinians' national identity.  

The Palestinians have condemned Gingrich and likened his comment to former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir's 1969 denial of the existence of the Palestinians as a nation. 

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