After more than a week of silence in the face of questions, the State Department said it is concerned about the safety of a prominent pro-democracy Palestinian-American who recently received death threats from a terror organization affiliated with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
Fadi Elsalameen, a human-rights and anti-corruption activist who is seen as a leading challenger to Abbas's presidency, is facing death threats over his efforts to reform the Palestinian government and orient it more toward the West. The fledgling government is gearing up for elections next month. The death threats were formally issued earlier this month by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed terrorist group loyal to Abbas's Fatah political party.
Elsalameen, in a March 20 Twitter message disclosing the threat, said he has no security detail and called on the Biden administration to strongly denounce the threats emanating from the Martyrs Brigades. The State Department, which is responsible for protecting Americans abroad, declined to take a stance on the matter as recently as Friday when asked by reporters about Elsalameen's safety during a press briefing. On the same day, the State Department announced $15 million in new aid for the Palestinian government.
The State Department's silence quickly stoked concerns that the Biden administration is intentionally refraining from condemning Palestinian leadership amid its effort to resume giving taxpayer aid dollars to the government. That move that has drawn criticism from Republican foreign policy leaders, who maintain that the Palestinian government should not receive aid until it ends its support for terrorism and ongoing incitement against Israel. The Washington Free Beacon first reported last week that the State Department determined the Palestinian government continues to spend international aid dollars caring for imprisoned terrorists and their families as part of a program known as "pay-to-slay."
A State Department official, speaking only on background, told the Free Beacon that the department is aware of the threats on Elsalameen's life and takes them seriously. The official did not single out Abbas or criticize his government's association with the Martyrs Brigades. It remains unclear what exactly the Biden administration is doing to ensure Elsalameen's safety abroad.
"The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is the State Department's highest priority," the official said. "Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization responsible for numerous terrorist murders in recent decades."
This is not the first time Elsalameen has been threatened as a result of his pro-democracy activism and criticism of Abbas's rule. His home outside Hebron in the West Bank was shot up by unknown gunman in 2016, causing damage but no fatalities.
Elsalameen told the Free Beacon the Biden administration should be taking the matter much more seriously. With the administration restarting aid to the Palestinian government and working to unwind the Trump administration's hardline policies, the United States should tell Abbas and his government that it will not accept death threats against American citizens.
"I am asking President Biden to pressure President Abbas to condemn this death threat and call it off," Elsalameen said. "I am a pro-democracy and anti-corruption activist; my goal is constructive reform for the Palestinian people. There is no reason for anyone to call for my death let alone a faction linked to President Abbas who receives hundreds of millions of dollars in [aid from the American government]."
Human rights groups and American foreign policy leaders have condemned the threats on Elsalameen's life.
The Human Rights Foundation condemned the Martyrs Brigades last week and cited it as "the armed wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' political party, Fatah."
Morgan Ortagus, the State Department spokeswoman under former president Trump, asked: "Why is #abbas (and his thugs) threatening a fellow presidential candidate with his life? This is not how democracy works. If this is where the [Palestinian Authority] elections are headed, the international community won't be able to view them as legitimate."
Aaron David Miller, a veteran Middle East analyst and peace advocate, said, "The [Palestinian Authority] or whoever is targeting him ought to stand down." The Biden administration, he added, "should intercede with [the Palestinian Authority] to protect a US citizen."