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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas pictured here at meeting in Bethlehem on May 23. (Credit: Shealah Craighead/White House)

(JLNJ and combined sources) Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) both rebuffed U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s claim that the PA will no longer pursue its policy of paying the families of convicted terrorists.

“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,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Kan Radio Wednesday.

Issa Qaraqe, head of prisoner affairs for the PA, said he knows “the allowances [to terrorists’ families] were paid this month, and they will be next month too.”

One senior aide to a top Palestinian official told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) he believed the report was not true. The source said he had no firsthand knowledge of the issue, but he said it was unlikely to be true because it is an emotional issue to many Palestinians.

“I don’t know if it is true, but I don’t think so. I also think it would be a mistake. Many people would be very angry at the government if they changed the policy,” said the person, who spoke to TPS on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Tillerson had declared the purported change in PA policy Tuesday during a public hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee concerning budget changes at the State Department.

“[The PA has] changed that policy and their intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others. We have been very clear with them that this [practice of paying terrorists] is simply not acceptable to us,” Tillerson said, adding that the change came in response to pressure applied by President Donald Trump last month during his meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.

The issue of payouts to terror families has been a point of contention for Israel for years, and made it to Congress’ agenda in February of this year when 42 Republican senators introduced a bill to slash U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority if the payments continue. The bill, known as the Taylor Force Act, is named for a U.S. Army veteran named Taylor Force who was stabbed to death in Tel Aviv in March 2016 while on an MBA program in Israel sponsored by Vanderbilt University.

Notably, President Trump did not mention the issue when meeting the press following his meetings with Abbas in Washington and Bethlehem last month. However, White House spokesman Sean Spicer did say that Trump raised the issue with Abbas in Washington.

“The president raised concerns about the payments to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who have committed acts of terror and to their families, and emphasized the need to resolve this issue,” Spicer said.

The Palestinians have paid out some NIS 4 billion—or $1.12 billion—over the past four years to terrorists and their families.

Also this week, Israeli government ministers granted initial approval to withhold tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority if the payments don’t stop.