Newt Gingrich declared in an interview that Palestinians are an “invented” people, a statement that drew outrage Saturday from top Palestinian officials.

Gingrich’s campaign, while standing by the statement, afterward clarified that the former House speaker still supports the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The front-running Republican presidential candidate made the comments in an interview with The Jewish Channel. The interview marks some of the toughest language to date any candidate has used to describe the Middle East peace process. It also comes after Gingrich pledged at a forum earlier in the week that if elected, he would name John Bolton — a hawkish, pro-Israel former U.N. ambassador who served in the George W. Bush administration — as his secretary of state.