Yesterday, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a rather significant announcement:
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told senators on Tuesday that the Palestinian leadership had changed its policy and intends to stop paying the families of terrorists jailed for attacking or killing Israelis.
“They have changed that policy and their intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others,” Tillerson said. “We have been very clear with them that this [practice of paying terrorists] is simply not acceptable to us.”
Tillerson’s comments were made during a public hearing on Capitol Hill with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the US State Department’s budget. US President Donald Trump has proposed cutting the State Department funding levels by 28.7 percent.
Asked about US foreign policy going forward, specifically pertaining to the Palestinian Authority’s policy of paying terrorists, Tillerson said that both he and Trump discussed the issue with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their recent meetings in Washington and Bethlehem.
“The president raised it, and I had a bilateral meeting with [Abbas] later and I told him: You absolutely have to stop this,” Tillerson said.
This would be huge. The PLO practice of paying stipends to the families of people (I used the term guardedly) who attack Israelis if they are killed or imprisoned is nothing other than the PLO paying for violence.
On the other hand, the way you can tell a Palestinian is lying is if his lips are moving. And, like so many other things told to Westerners, this promise was apparently a bald faced lie that inadvertently became public in Tillerson’s testimony. The Palestinians immediately howled that they didn’t make such a promise:
Issa Qaraqe, head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs, said that the PLO had not stopped paying wages to families of prisoners held in Israel and had no intention of stopping.
“There is no end to the payments” of the prisoners and their families, he told the Times of Israel. “We reject ending the subsidies to the prisoners and families of martyrs. We will not apologize for it.”
“The American and Israeli pressure is an aggression against the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority,” Qaraqe said, adding that “almost every other household among the Palestinian people is the family of a prisoner or martyr.”
There are some 6,500 Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails.
The Palestinians have paid out some NIS 4 billion — or $1.12 billion — over the past four years to terrorists and their families, a former director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and ex-head of the army’s intelligence and research division told a top Knesset panel late last month.
And Israeli officials agreed:
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and a second senior diplomatic official both said they had not seen any sign Ramallah was intending to cut off the payments.
“I have to say that I didn’t seen any indication that the Palestinian Authority stopped or intends to stop payments to terrorists and terrorists’ families,” Liberman told Israel Radio Wednesday morning.
“We’re following this closely,” he added.
Today Tillerson was testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and he doubled down… sorta:
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday that the U.S. was in the midst of an “active discussion” with the Palestinian Authority on the issue of support for convicted terrorists, a significant change from a statement he made Tuesday on the same subject, in which he declared that the Palestinians have “changed their policy” of financially supporting families of convicted terrorists.
Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Tillerson said in reply to a question from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), that this discussion was an important part of a larger dialogue between the Trump administration and the Palestinian authority on terrorism and the peace process.
Half an hour later, however, Tillerson repeated his message from Tuesday and said that assurances from the Palestinian leadership on this issue “were given to me during the President’s visit to Bethlehem.” His statements left members of Congress confused as to the exact status of these payments.
Tillerson is not a dumb guy–though it is amazing at the number of people leading utterly piss-ant lives who don’t hesitate to call him that–and the fact that he basically stood his ground after being contradicted has significance. Back in March, Lindsey Graham introduced a bill cutting US aid to the Palestinian Authority if this practice did not cease. Palestinian Authority support payments were on the table in both hearings. Plus, today the Israeli Knesset voted to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority equal to the stipends it pays to terrorists (full disclosure, I had no idea Israel was not already doing this). And this:
Benjamin Netanyahu praises Swiss, Dutch for reassessing funding to terrorist-glorifying Palestinian NGOs https://t.co/aHBzz52zV7
— Ayn van Bergland (@AynvanBergland) June 14, 2017
I don’t pretend to have an inside track to what is going on but too many things are happening to write it off to “Tillerson was fooled.”