Tillerson Still Hopeful on End to Palestinian Terror Payments Despite PA Denial of Policy Change
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered a clarification on Wednesday of comments he made the previous day concerning an end to the so-called “martyr payments” made by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to the families of terrorists.
Tillerson disclosed at a Senate hearing on Tuesday that he had received reassurances from PA President Mahmoud Abbas that the PA would halt the practice of paying a monthly stipend to the families of suicide bombers and other terrorists.
“They have changed their policy,” Tillerson said, referring to the PA. “At least I have been informed they’ve changed that policy and their intent is to cease payments.”
But the PA moved quickly to counter Tillerson’s claim. “There have been talks about making the payments in a different way, but not ending them,” one PA official told the Reuters news agency.
On Wednesday, appearing at a House of Representatives hearing, Tillerson repeated his claim that he had received promises about the payments from the PA. “Those were assurances that were given to me in the most recent trip to Bethlehem,” he said.
Tillerson added, “We have had conversations with [the Palestinians] and told them they cannot continue these types of payments and expect the US or the American people to see any explanation for why they do that. They have indicated they would. They indicated to me they were in the process of changing that. ”
Tillerson then revealed that his Palestinian hosts “did say, ‘We have to support widows and orphans.’ I said, ‘Widows and orphans is one thing. Attaching payments as recognition of violence or murders is something the American people could never accept or understand.’ So we will continue this dialogue with them. We have been quite clear as to our view.”
Asked whether this statement signaled US acceptance of PA payments to the wives and children of Palestinian terrorists if these were not described as “martyr payments,” a senior State Department official told The Algemeiner, “We have repeatedly raised our concerns about payments to prisoners and martyrs with the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas, and we understand that they are looking at ways to address this issue.”
The official noted that the State Department had been “pleased to see last month that some payments were stopped to Hamas-affiliated prisoners.”
“We want to see further steps taken on this issue,” the official said.
Tillerson’s initial comments about Palestinian assurances were greeted with skepticism in Israel as well. The Israeli monitoring organization Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) on Wednesday pointed out that several Palestinian officials had said that the payments were non-negotiable. On June 11, Issa Karake, director of the PLO’s Commission on Prisoner Affairs, told the Watan news agency that the prisoner families would continue to receive support and that the PA would “not submit to Israeli pressure and blackmail.”
According to its 2016 budget, the PA currently pays 26,800 prisoner families the sum of $183 million per year. Approximately 6,500 Palestinian prisoners convicted for terrorism by Israel receive PA salaries amounting to $135 million annually.
In February, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado introduced the Taylor Force Act, which would cut off American funding of the PA if it continues to pay monetary rewards to terrorists and their families.