TEL AVIV – Both Israel and the Palestinians have rejected claims made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the Palestinian leadership has “changed its policy” and will cease paying terrorist salaries in the near future.
“I have to say that I didn’t see any indication that the Palestinian Authority stopped or intends to stop payments to terrorists and terrorists’ families,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told Israel Radio Wednesday morning.
“We’re following this closely,” he added.
A unnamed senior diplomatic official added that the Palestinians were “continuing to pay families of terrorists.”
“Israel is unaware of any change of Palestinian policy,” the official said. “The Palestinian Authority continues to glorify [terrorists], to incite and to promote terror vis-a-vis these payments.”
The Palestinians themselves denied Tillerson’s claims.
“There have been talks about making the payments in a different way, but not ending them,” one Palestinian official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“They could perhaps be labeled differently,” he said, adding that perhaps the word “martyr” could be dropped. “They are not going to be stopped.”
“There is no end to the payments” of Palestinian prisoners, Issa Karake, head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs, told the Times of Israel in response to Tillerson’s comments. “We reject ending the subsidies to the prisoners and families of martyrs. We will not apologize for it.”
Karake said that American and Israeli pressure to end the payments was a display of “aggression against the Palestinian people.”
Breitbart Jerusalem reported Karake’s past comments that Palestinian prisoners are “not terrorists and are not criminals. They are freedom prisoners and fighters who enjoy an important national, human and legal status.”
The Palestinian Prisoners Club, which supports Palestinian inmates, told Haaretz that this month’s payments had been made as usual.
Tillerson told a Senate hearing that President Mahmoud Abbas had assured him that the PA would stop paying terrorists jailed for the murder of Israelis and the terrorists’ families.
“They have changed their policy,” Tillerson said on Tuesday. “At least I have been informed they’ve changed that policy and their intent is to cease payments.”
On Wednesday, Tillerson seemed to walk back on his statement, saying that there was an “active discussion” between Ramallah and Washington on the issue.
“We will continue this dialogue with them,” Tillerson told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, adding that President Donald Trump has only a “certain window of patience” and “a certain window which he will remain engaged and be interested.”
“At some point he’s going to become disinterested. And when we become disinterested, that will certainly alter our level of support,” Tillerson added.
“We’ve taken the position to the Palestinian Authority in a very unequivocal way: You either take care of this yourself or someone else will take care of it for you,” he went on. “Those are the words that I have used with them.”
During both of their May meetings in Washington and then in Bethlehem, Trump made it clear to Abbas that the payments must stop, saying, “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded or rewarded.”
Over the past four years, the PA has paid out more than $1 billion to terrorists and their families, according to a recent study by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, amounting to 20 percent of the foreign aid the PA receives annually.