(CNN) - GOP presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich suggested in an interview aired on Friday that those living in the Palestinian territories are an "invented people."
"I believe that the Jewish people have the right to have a state," Gingrich said on The Jewish Channel. "Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, who are historically part of the Arab community."
He added: "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. I think it's tragic."
His comments, seemingly off the path from United States foreign policy supporting a two-state solution in the Middle East, come days after Gingrich attended the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington, D.C. and as the current crop of GOP candidates compete for the GOP Jewish vote.
Describing the Middle East peace process as "delusional," Gingrich placed heavy blame on the Palestinian Authority and the role of Hamas, the ruling political party in the Gaza Strip, for the ongoing unrest.
"Both of which represent an enormous desire to destroy Israel," Gingrich said. "I think there's a lot to think about in terms of how fundamentally you want to change the terms of debate in the region."
Gingrich quickly faced criticism over his comments. On a conference call with reporters, surrogates for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Gingrich's closest competitor, questioned the former House speaker's approach.
"I'm not sure that kind of statement gets us any closer to accomplishing an agenda," said Mary Kramer, former U.S. Ambassador to Barbados and Romney surrogate. "And so that's one of the things that I think makes me a little bit nervous about Speaker Gingrich is that he sometimes makes comments that open to very broad interpretations."