Tillerson Backtracks Statement on Palestinian Authority Funding of Terrorist Families, Then Contradicts Himself

Both Israel and the Palestinians rejected the secretary of state's claim that the Palestinians agreed to stop funding terrorists' families

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testifies during a State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee hearing on the State Department's FY2018 Budget on Capitol Hill on June 13, 2017 in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testifies during a State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee hearing on the State Department's FY2018 Budget on Capitol Hill on June 13, 2017 Zach Gibson/AFP

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday that the U.S. was in the midst of an "active discussion" with the Palestinian Authority on the issue of support for convicted terrorists, a significant change from a statement he made Tuesday on the same subject, in which he declared that the Palestinians have "changed their policy" of financially supporting families of convicted terrorists.

Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Tillerson said in reply to a question from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), that this discussion was an important part of a larger dialogue between the Trump administration and the Palestinian authority on terrorism and the peace process.

Half an hour later, however, Tillerson repeated his message from Tuesday and said that assurances from the Palestinian leadership on this issue "were given to me during the President's visit to Bethlehem." His statements left members of Congress confused as to the exact status of these payments.

Tillerson added that Trump told the Palestinians he has a "certain window of patience" on this issue, and that if it takes too long, "he will become disinterested," something that will alter the level of American support to the Palestinian Authority.

Following Tillerson's announcement Tuesday, Issa Karaka, head of prisoner affairs for the Palestinian Authority, told Haaretz that no such decision could ever possibly be made, since it would spell the end of the PA with the Palestinian public.

"Almost every other household among the Palestinian people is the family of a prisoner or martyr," Karaka said. "Anybody who thinks he can execute a decision like that is badly wrong," he said.

"We are not aware of any change in the Palestinian Authority's policy, and as far as we know they are still paying funds to terrorists' families," a senior Israeli official said.

"The Palestinian Authority continues to praise, incite to and encourage terror through financial support," the official added.

Barak Ravid and Jack Khoury contributed to this report.