Israelis, Palestinians deny Tillerson remark on payments to attackers

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks to a congressional panel on June 13, 2017.
(Zach Gibson / Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson achieved a momentary consensus among Israeli and Palestinian officials — but not in the way he may have hoped.

Officials in Tel Aviv and the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday denied remarks by Tillerson a day earlier before the U.S. Senate that the Palestinians had agreed to stop a long-standing policy of providing financial support to the relatives of individuals involved in attacks against Israelis.

“They have changed their policy,” Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. “Their intent is to cease the payments to the family members of those who have committed murder or violence against others.”

But Palestinian officials said payments to relatives of attackers and Palestinians imprisoned by Israel would continue. Support for Palestinian prisoners and families of so-called martyrs enjoys wide consensus among the Palestinian public.


Nabil Shaath, an advisor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians were surprised by Tillerson’s remarks.

“This is not something that the secretary of State should announce. If we want to do it, we will announce it. Giving a concession to the Israelis is not something for the U.S. secretary of State to do,” said Shaath, speaking by telephone. “This creates a serious problem with our people, to say that.”

Israeli politicians have recently seized on the payments to argue that Abbas is insincere about pursuing a peace agreement with Israel.

In talks with the Palestinians about renewing peace talks, President Trump and U.S. officials have pressed for a change. On a May 23 visit to the West Bank, Trump told reporters, “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded or rewarded.”

But on Wednesday, Israeli officials were also flummoxed by Tillerson’s comments, saying they were unaware of any change.

“I haven’t seen any sign that the Palestinian Authority has stopped or plans to stop payments to terrorists or families of terrorists,” said Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in an interview with Israel Radio. “We are following this closely.”

Mitnick is a special correspondent.