Tillerson Warns Palestinians: Trump Could Become ‘Disinterested’

WASHINGTON – Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned the Palestinians about the consequences of failing to take tangible steps towards peace. “At some point, [President Donald Trump] is going to become disinterested. And when we become disinterested, that will certainly alter our level of support,” Tillerson said.

When asked about the Palestinian Authority (PA) payment of stipends to families of terrorists, Tillerson noted, “The President has been very clear with the Palestinian Authority [about the] actions he expects them to take. He has a certain window of patience, a certain window which he will remain engaged and be interested.”

During the hearing, the issue of US assistance to the Palestinian Authority was raised. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) asked Tillerson that given the substantial State Department across the globe, why the US was actually increasing funding to the PA? Tillerson did not answer Ros-Lehtinen’s specific query and instead cited Trump’s two meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas about “how they manage terrorism and how they manage violence within the West Bank and Gaza. But, it’s also hopefully setting the stage for a reengagement of the peace process with the Israelis.”

When asked by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) about his comments yesterday that the Palestinians have changed their policy on payments to Palestinian terrorists’ families, Tillerson explained, “Those were assurances that were given to me on the most recent trip to Bethlehem. We have had conversations with them and told them they cannot continue these types of payments and expect that the US and American people to see any explanation for why they do that.” The top US diplomat noted, “They (Palestinians) have indicated that they would. They indicated to me they were in the process of changing that. They did say we have to support widows and orphans. I said widows and orphans are 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.”

Tillerson added when addressing the question of stipends to terrorists, “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. Those are the words that I have used with them.”

Reuters reported on Wednesday that despite Tillerson’s assurances, Palestinian officials have vowed to continue with their stipend payments. 

More updates from the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing: 

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) asked Tillerson if the “Trump administration is committed to the implementation of last year’s extension of the US-Israel Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding security assistance?” Tillerson responded, “Yes.”

Sherman further asked if the State Department would “closely scrutinize” the recent $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia and ensure they would not “adversely impact” Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME) and oppose the transfer of F-35 aircraft?

“We will ensure that all of those sales meet all of our obligations both to Israel and to others,” Tillerson replied.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) asked Tillerson if the Trump administration views Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Tillerson replied, “The Administration has not expressed a specific view in that regard.”

On moving the U.S Embassy to Jerusalem: “That decision is under evaluation by the President… He has not made that decision to my knowledge.”

On report that Trump plans to increase aid to Palestinians: Tillerson clarified that aid to Ramallah will actually decrease by approximately $20 million.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) urged the Secretary of State to reconsider the $10 million in funding for the UN Human Rights Council given the organization’s ongoing bias against the Jewish state. Tillerson assured him that in some international organizations, the Trump administration is either going to “reform those or withdraw from them.”

Noting that when Trump indicated in February that the U.S. is backing away from the two-state solution, Tillerson was on a plane and presumably not present during this key policy decision, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) asked how America’s allies can have confidence in the State Department’s authority?

Tillerson insisted, “There is no gap between the President and myself or the State Department on policy.”

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