Two ministers in new Palestinian cabinet have made statements supporting terrorism

Watchdog uncovers 2002 sermon by religious affairs minister in which he called Jews ‘pigs and apes,’ while women’s affairs minister honored terrorists who killed dozens of Israelis

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas poses for a picture with new Palestinian government, after it was sworn in on March 31, 2024, in Ramallah, in the West Bank. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas poses for a picture with new Palestinian government, after it was sworn in on March 31, 2024, in Ramallah, in the West Bank. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Two ministers in the new Palestinian government, which was sworn in on Sunday, have made statements in the past that incited to violence against Jews or expressed support for terrorists.

The new Palestinian Authority government was announced last Thursday in response to US demands that the PA be “revitalized” in the hope that it can also administer the Gaza Strip once the Israel-Hamas war ends.

While the “revitalization” has not entailed the resignation of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who has not faced an election in almost two decades, the PA hopes that the new cabinet of 23 ministers, chosen from loyalists to the president within the ruling Fatah party, will send a signal of  renewed leadership in view of a possible recognition by the US and other countries of Palestinian statehood.

However, a report issued Sunday by the hawkish Palestinian Media Watch, an independent Israeli watchdog that monitors official Palestinian outlets, uncovered controversial past statements made by two ministers in the new Palestinian cabinet that signaled antisemitism and support for terror.

A video from 2002, at the height of the Second Intifada, showed the new minister of religious affairs and endowments, Mohammad Mustafa Najem, delivering a sermon in which he demonized Jews as “apes and pigs,” quoting a Quranic verse.

Najem described Jews as bloodthirsty and “characterized by conceit, pride, arrogance, rioting, disloyalty and treachery,” according to a translation provided by PMW.

The preacher further incited his audience to violence against Israelis, saying, “O servants of Allah, be the ones through which Allah will afflict the Jews with the worst torments.” The sermon was broadcast live on the official PA TV channel.

Recent statements by the new minister of women’s affairs, Mona al-Khalili, also appeared to signal support for terrorists.

The General Union of Palestinian Women that Al-Khalili helms held a vigil on October 17 — 10 days after the Hamas onslaught, in which 1,200 were killed in southern Israel and 253 were taken hostage to Gaza, and days before the launch of the IDF’s ground operation — calling for an end to the “Israeli aggression.”

In a post on the General Union’s Facebook page, al-Khalili is seen holding placards with the faces of Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli jails, among them Ibrahim Hamed, who is considered the most dangerous prisoner currently held by Israel and was responsible for the death of at least 46 Israeli civilians in various bombings, and Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms for planning three terror attacks during the Second Intifada that killed five Israelis and is viewed as a top future candidate to lead the Palestinian Authority.

A few days later, on October 26, al-Khalili spoke at a symposium organized by the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, and affirmed “the right of the Palestinian people to resist the occupation that has been ongoing for 75 years,” a statement that may be interpreted as backing armed struggle.

Palestinian Minister of Women’s Affairs Mona Khalili (L) assumes her portfolio from her predecessor Amal Hamad in Ramallah, April 1, 2024 (Palestinian News Agency WAFA)

PMW also uncovered a speech made by al-Khalili in March 2018, on the 40th anniversary of the “martyrdom” of Palestinian terrorist Dalal al-Mughrabi,  who took part in the 1978 Coastal Road massacre in Israel, during which Palestinian terrorists hijacked a bus and murdered 38 Israelis, including 13 children.

At the commemoration ceremony, al-Khalili described the Coastal Road massacre as a “qualitative resistance operation led by the 20-year-old martyr Dalal al-Mughrabi, at the head of a squad of young Fedayeen [guerrilla fighters], which confirmed that Palestinian women are capable of carrying out the most difficult tasks.”

Supporters of the Palestinian Fatah movement march with a poster of female terrorist Dalal al-Mughrabi, who took part in the 1978 Coastal Road massacre in Israel, during a rally marking the 55th foundation anniversary of the political party in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on January 1, 2020. (Musa AL SHAER / AFP)

The new PA cabinet includes four women and six ministers from Gaza. Among them is former Gaza City mayor Majed Abu Ramadan, who has been assigned the health portfolio.

The cabinet also includes Varsen Aghabekian, a member of the Palestinian Armenian community who has taken the role of “state minister” in the foreign ministry, which is nominally under the control of Prime Minister Mustafa. She is the first Palestinian Armenian to take up a ministerial post since the establishment of the PA.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a phone call with Abbas on Monday to welcome the formation of the new PA cabinet.

“Blinken reiterated that the United States looks forward to working with the new PA cabinet to promote peace, security, and prosperity and urged the implementation of necessary reforms,” according to a US readout. “Blinken emphasized that a revitalized PA is essential to delivering results for the Palestinian people in both the West Bank and Gaza.”

Handout picture provided by the Palestinian Authority’s Press Office (PPO) shows Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, with the newly appointed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa, in Ramallah on March 14, 2024. (PPO/AFP)

The secretary also “stressed that the United States will press [Israel] to protect civilians in the Gaza Strip, bring in more aid and work for a political solution [to the conflict] that leads to the establishment of a Palestinian state in cooperation with [the PA] and the Arab states,” added a readout from Abbas’s office.

For his part, the PA president raised his concerns about a potential IDF offensive in Rafah where over one million Palestinians are sheltering, his office said.

Abbas also urged the US to intervene in light of recent Israeli moves aimed at further entrenching settler presence in the West Bank.

The United States has welcomed the formation of the new cabinet, signaling it is looking forward to working with the new group of ministers “to deliver on credible reforms.”

In addition to the new cabinet, the PA is in the final stages of talks with the Biden administration about reforming its controversial welfare policy, which includes payments to terrorists and their families, two sources familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Friday.

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