Tillerson’s Terrorism Problem

By Michael Rubin

Commentary Magazine

March 31, 2017

Over at the Washington Free Beacon, Adam Kredo has the scoop that the Trump administration will welcome. He wrote:

The State Department confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon late Thursday that it intends to permit Jibril Rajoub, secretary of the Fatah Central Committee, to participate in meetings with U.S. officials next week, despite his repeated calls for terrorism against Israel and a 15-year stint in Israeli prison for committing terror acts. A State Department official who spoke to the Free Beacon acknowledged Rajoub’s radical rhetoric, but maintained he can serve a positive role in peace talks set to take place between Trump administration officials and a Palestinian delegation including Mahmoud Abbas… Legal experts claim that Rajoub’s endorsement of terrorism should prevent him from obtaining a U.S. visa under current laws. U.S. law bars entrance to individuals who “endorse or espouse terrorist activity.” The Trump administration has no plans to acquiesce to this call, according to a State Department spokesman. “The U.S. government does not endorse every statement Mr. Rajoub has made, but he has long been involved in Middle East peace efforts, and has publicly supported a peaceful, non-violent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the official told the Free Beacon. “We continue to press Fatah officials, including Rajoub himself, to refrain from any statements or actions that could be viewed as inciting or legitimizing others use of violence.”

As the quip apocryphally attributed to Albert Einstein goes, “insanity is repeatedly doing the same action but expecting different results each time.” If that’s true, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson or those diplomats whispering into his ear should check in with their shrink.

Let’s put aside the irony of having to pair the insistence that Rajoub supports “a peaceful, non-violent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” with the need to press him “to refrain from any statements or actions” that could legitimize violence. Perhaps a man who threw a grenade at a bus, sentenced to life, and then has been re-arrested multiple times after subsequent early releases hasn’t really reformed? Likewise, perhaps Rajoub’s vehement opposition as head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee to a moment of silence for the Israeli athletes murdered during the 1972 Munich Olympics suggests that he really hasn’t embraced the spirit of peace or truly rejected terrorism?

The State Department has a long history of reaching out to terrorists. In Dancing with the Devil, my history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups, I document many instances of U.S. attempts to negotiate with terrorist groups or to use them as intermediaries. It’s a strategy that dates back to Jimmy Carter’s desire to utilize Palestinian terrorists as intermediaries to win the release of American hostages in Iran to then-Senator John Kerry’s willingness to pass messages for Hamas to numerous officials who jumped on the Hezbollah-is-legitimate bandwagon. In each case, U.S. diplomats legitimized terrorists but did not achieve their prime objective.

A far better strategy would be to utilize leverage—the U.S. government pays several hundred million dollars of it—in order to present the Palestinians with a stark choice: Completely renounce and abandon terrorism as required by the Oslo Accords or lose everything. There should be no middle ground. What Tillerson proposes to do, perhaps at the urging of the White House, but which he legally has the power to stop is nothing less than a quixotic effort and an insult to every American victim of terrorism.