Photo Credit: US Department of State
Secretary Tillerson testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations, on Capitol Hill.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dialed back his assertion that the Palestinian Authority has “changed their policy” regarding payment of salaries to terrorists and their families during testimony before a committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

Tillerson told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the United States is in the middle of an “active discussion” with Ramallah on the issue.

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The statement is a step back from his previous stance, in which he maintained the Palestinian Authority had “changed its policy” of paying monthly sums to families of terrorists convicted and jailed for attacking and killing Israelis — a position he explained to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“They have changed that policy and their intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence,” Tillerson said during testimony on Tuesday. “We have been very clear to them that this is simply not acceptable to us. It is certainly not acceptable to the American people.”

The Secretary explained to committee members on Wednesday that assurances were “given to me during the President’s visit to Bethlehem.” He added that he had a certain “window of patience” on the matter but that if it takes too long he “will become disinterested” – which would then be reflected in the amount of US foreign aid to the PA.

The contradictory statements were somewhat confusing, with Tillerson appearing to be personally conflicted himself about what is happening, as opposed to what he believed would be happening, in response to his efforts and those of President Donald Trump to reach out to the PA leadership to create a springboard for new peace talks.

Tillerson’s remarks reflect the deep disappointment that has seeped through the Congress, which is now planning legislation to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if the “pay to slay” policy does not end.

Israeli lawmakers have given preliminary approval to a similar measure that would deduct the amount of those payments from the tax monies collected by the Jewish State on behalf of the Ramallah government, prior to transferring those funds.

Nevertheless, Palestinian Authority Prisoners’ Affairs Commissioner Essa Qaraka said in a statement this week that payments to convicted terrorists and their families, and those of “martyrs” (those killed in attacks on Israelis) will certainly continue, because “almost every other household among the Palestinian people is the family of a prisoner or martyr.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.