WASHINGTON — 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.
When Trump met with Abbas in Washington on May 3, the White House said the US president brought up the issue with the Palestinian leader.
“President Trump raised his concerns about payments to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who have committed terrorist acts, and to their families, and emphasized the need to resolve this issue,” the White House said at the time.
The payments are technically carried out by the Palestine Liberation Organization –an umbrella group for Palestinian factions — after Abbas earlier transferred the responsibility away from the PA in an attempt to deflect criticism of the payment system. Abbas is the head of both the PA and the PLO.
Many GOP leaders on Capitol Hill urged the US president to push Abbas on the payments before that meeting.
Trump met a second time with Abbas, in Bethlehem, on May 23, and told him: “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded or rewarded.”
In February, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) introduced the Taylor Force Act, which would cut US funding to the Palestinian Authority if it continues to provide monetary support to the families of those who commit acts of terror against Israelis and others.
The legislation is named after former US army officer Taylor Force, who was stabbed to death in March 2016 by a Palestinian terrorist while visiting Tel Aviv. Force was a graduate student at Vanderbilt University and was traveling with other students on a program studying global entrepreneurship.
Since then, Republicans have voiced strong desire to see that policy changed in Ramallah.
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.