Controversial Palestinian Authority leader Jibril Rajoub is slated to enter the United States for a high-profile speaking event at the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) next week – prompting outcry from terror watch experts and victim’s families who claim that his incitements led to the murder of their Israeli-Americans loved ones.
“The families are outraged. Jibril is a terrorist leader,” Itamar Marcus, Israel-based political activist, researcher and the founder and director of Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) told Fox News. “And the U.S needs to make a statement that he is not welcome.”
In a letter sent this week to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, PMW claims that Rajoub has “promoted Palestinian terror for years and most actively promoted terror during the 2015-2016 terror wave, in which 40 people were murdered and over 500 were wounded” including four American citizens. The letter was also signed by five terror victim’s family members – the fathers’ of Taylor Force and Naftali Fraenkel, mothers’ to Ezra Schwartz and Hallel Yaffa Ariel and the son of Richard Lakin. All were U.S citizens killed in Palestinian-inspired terror attacks in Israel between 2014 and 2016.
The activist group is subsequently calling on authorities to ban Rajoub from entering the U.S. or if he does, that he be investigated for “incitement to murder American citizens.”
Rajoub was recently named the Secretary General of the Fatah Central Committee, the paramount decision-making wing of the Fatah political party, and is the former Palestinian Authority (PA) security chief in the West Bank and comes with a checkered past.
In 1970, the then 17-year-old was sentenced to life in prison for throwing a grenade at an Israeli army bus, but was released 1in 1985 in a prisoner exchange for Israeli hostages.
In more recent times, Rajoub has made a string of highly inflammatory comments.
On official PA TV in 2015, Rajoub encouraged Palestinians to kill Israelis, calling them “individual acts of bravery” and espousing his pride in “whoever confronts, fights or dies as a Martyr.” Last year, he repeated calls to murder and referred to them this time as “individual acts of heroism” that “we in the Fatah movement bless and encourage.”
Rajoub also urged U.S designated terrorist group Hamas to kidnap Israelis during a TV broadcast in 2014. A few months later, U.S citizen Naftali Fraenkel and his friends – fellow teens Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach – were abducted and killed on their way home from school in the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut, leading to a massive escalation of violence and triggered the seven-week conflict known as Operation Protective Edge.
As Marcus pointed out, U.S. law stipulates that any alien who “endorses or espouses terrorist activity or persuades others to endorse terrorist activity or persuades others to endorse or espouse terrorist activity” is “ineligible for visas or admission.”
Nonetheless, Rajoub is still set to be in New York City on Wednesday at IPF’s guest attendee as part of their 2017 Joseph Forum. A representative for IPF confirmed that he will arrive next week and that the organization is paying only for his expenses, not an additional speaking fee.
“IPF is appalled when hateful and incendiary rhetoric is used in any way, particularly by Palestinian leaders who wish to represent their people in this conflict,” a spokesman for the forum, Martin Irom, told Fox News. “We are deeply sympathetic to the pain of the families whose loved ones have been victims of Palestinian terrorism, and we do not diminish their suffering and anger in any way.”
But despite the staunch opposition to giving Rajoub being given such a platform, IPF – a tax-exempt organization that seeks to advance the goal of a two- state solution – specifically established its Joseph Forum with the aim of fostering productive debate.
“We seek solutions to end violence and bring peace to the region, which will ultimately require dialogue with Palestinian leaders. We fully intend to challenge Rajoub on his rhetoric in our upcoming meeting, and call out his past and current rhetoric and positions,” Irom said. “We are hopeful to accomplish our goal for this program; to convene a dialogue that is both challenging and constructive for all in attendance, serving to inform and improve our efforts to support Israel, its security, and the goal of two states for two peoples.”
Rajoub will be joined on stage by Brig. Gen. (res.) Michael Herzog, Israeli security expert, the Milton Fine International Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest negotiating team. The conversation between the two is to be moderated by Tamara Cofman Wittes, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
The Palestinian leader is considered by many experts to be next-in-line to succeed Mahmoud Abas as President of the PA. Marcus expressed deep concern that “any legitimacy he gets” – especially from an organization “as reputable as IPF” – would boost his leadership prospects would ultimately destroy any chance of peace between the two sides.
Meanwhile, the IPF instead acknowledged that Rajoub “undoubtedly will play an influential role in the decision-making of the Palestinian leadership” thus his views on the future come at a critical time.
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And as it stands, Rajoub won’t be denied access nor taken away in handcuffs next week. The U.S State Department did not respond to a follow-up comment request regarding Rajoub’s meetings outside of the IPF, but in their original comments hinted that he may have an additional audience.
According to a spokesperson, they are “aware of his plans to visit the country” and that the “Administration is committed to reaching a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement” which includes “meeting with a range of both Israeli and Palestinian officials, including Rajoub.”
“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,” added the spokesperson. “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.”
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay