Secretary Rex Tillerson’s State Department’s recently-published “Country Reports on Terrorism 2016” is highly critical of Israel. Its anti-Israel rhetoric is as hostile as that of the Obama administration. Is that what President Trump thinks, or does Mr. Tillerson have his own Middle East agenda?
In the report, Tillerson whitewashes Palestinian Authority incitement of terror and financial support for terrorists and blames the Jewish state itself for violence against Israeli civilians and the absence of peace. By attributing Palestinian terrorism to a “lack of hope” that a Palestinian state will materialize, the State Department turns Israeli victims into perpetrators and Palestinian perpetrators into victims.
The 2016 report falsely asserts that “explicit calls for violence against Israelis are rare and the leadership does not generally tolerate it.” This flies in the face of reality.
Since late 2015, PA calls for violence have resulted in 177 stabbings, 144 shootings and 58 vehicular attacks against Israelis, killing 49 people, including American war veteran Taylor Force, and injuring more than 700.
The PA brainwashes its population with never-ending anti-Israel, anti-Semitic incitement and hero-worship of terrorists on television, in newspapers, in mosques, in music, in street-naming ceremonies, in schools, summer camps and more.
In July, the PA incited the current violence regarding the al-Aqsa Mosque with calls for “Rage for the al-Aqsa Mosque!” PA President Abbas exhorted his people to keep rioting even when Israel removed the metal detectors and security cameras that it had placed at the Temple Mount entrances to prevent future incidents like the murder of two Israeli Druze guards by three Palestinian jihadists.
The PA encouraged a 19 year-old to slaughter three innocent Israeli civilians in their home by repeatedly publicizing Mr. Abbas’ 2015 statement describing Jews on the Temple Mount as “filth,” promising that Allah will reward those who “will not allow” Jews to “defile” Jerusalem and calling for violence saying, “We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem blood spilled for Allah.”
Shockingly, Mr. Tillerson’s report euphemistically describes the PA’s pay-for-slay program that incentivizes Palestinians to kill Jews, as providing “financial packages to Palestinian security prisoners … to reintegrate them into society.” In 2017 the PA budgeted to pay its people $345 million, half of its foreign aid, for murdering and maiming Israelis. Terrorists and their families are paid rewards far outstripping wages paid to Palestinian professionals.
The backlash came quickly. On July 20, House Republican Peter Roskham wrote to Mr. Tillerson, rebuking him for wrongly portraying the PA as innocent peacemakers, reminding the secretary that the PA leadership “incites, rewards, and, in some cases, carries out terrorist attacks against innocent Israelis” and is the “root cause” of terrorism against Israel. In response to this and other criticism, a spokesman indicated that the department stands by its report.
This State Department document resembles anti-Israel U.N. accusations condemned by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. It contradicts President Trump’s outspoken condemnation of Palestinian incitement of terror.
In Ryadh this June, Mr. Trump blamed terrorist attacks on extreme Islamic ideologies. At their May 23 meeting in Bethlehem, Mr. Trump, disgusted with Mr. Abbas’ prevarication about working for peace, shouted at him that “the Israelis showed me your involvement in incitement” and warned that “peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded or rewarded,” referring to the PA pay-for-slay program. Our president demanded that the PA curb anti-Israeli incitement and cease paying terrorists for murdering Israeli civilians saying, “You can talk about how much you want peace, but that’s empty [rhetoric].”
Mr. Tillerson has departed from Mr. Trump’s position. His report on Palestinian terrorism sends a contradictory message to U.S. allies and enemies. Mr. Tillerson adds unnecessary policy confusion in the combustible Middle East where clarity is essential to prevent bloodshed. Has Mr. Tillerson gone rogue? Is his State Department in open war with the White House? Or is the State Department simply dysfunctional?
It’s been reported that Mr. Tillerson thwarted efforts to remove the many Obama administration appointees in key positions at State who are determined to preserve the Obama agenda — not only on Israel, but also on Iran and other issues — and has left many staff positions unfilled. One of the results is this flawed report on terrorism.
Will Chief of Staff John Kelly be tasked with stopping Mr. Tillerson’s State Department policy insubordination? Will he demand that State accurately message the White House agenda? If he fails to create order at Foggy Bottom, that chaos will severely jeopardize the Trump administration’s foreign policy.
• Ziva Dahl is a senior fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.