Officials in the Trump administration's State Department are standing by a recent report criticized by Congress that blamed Israel for terror attacks and claimed Palestinians rarely incite violence, telling the Washington Free Beacon that it remains unclear why terrorists engage in violent acts.
Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus, criticized the State Department Thursday for releasing a report portraying Israel as the culprit in terrorism and downplaying Palestinian incitement of violent acts against the Jewish state, the Free Beacon first reported.
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Roskam demanded the State Department alter its report to bring it more in line with what he believes are the facts on the ground—that Palestinian leaders routinely incite violence against Israel, which has been forced to defend itself against a growing wave of terror attacks on Jewish citizens.
A State Department official, speaking on background, defended the report's conclusions and said that it cannot precisely pinpoint the motivations behind Palestinian terror attacks on Israel.
"We recognize that in any community, a combination of risk factors can come together to create a higher risk of radicalization to violence," the official said. "There is no one single pathway to violence—each individual's path to terrorism is personalized, with certain commonalities. Therefore, it is difficult to pinpoint precisely what the sources of radicalization to violence are. What could drive someone to violence in one instance could vary significantly with someone else who is similarly situated."
The State Department's response prompted a fierce backlash among U.S. officials and Trump administration insiders, who said the State Department under the leadership of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has gone rogue and is out of line with the White House's position on a range of sensitive diplomatic issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.
Sources pointed to the administration going into damage control mode last week after State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert stated during a press briefing that the U.S. was "upgrading" its diplomatic standing with the Palestinians, a declaration that came as a surprise to those in the White House.
The report singling out Israel is another clear example of the State Department pursuing policies that are well out of line with the White House's stated agenda, which the sources said has been pro-Israel. One source who advises the White House Middle East policy described the State Department's explanation to the Free Beacon as "spectacular bull—t."
"The State Department report includes multiple findings that are both inaccurate and harmful to combating Palestinian terrorism," Roskam wrote in a letter sent Thursday to the State Department. "This report wrongly insinuates Israeli security measures on the Temple Mount and a stalled peace process as key forces behind terrorism."
The officials additionally maintained that Israel remains one of America's "closest counterterrorism partners," and that it continues to work closely with the Jewish state to combat threats from ISIS, al Qaeda, and the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah.
"Most egregiously," Roskam wrote in his letter calling out the report, the State Department's finding portray "the PA as innocent peacemakers far removed from being the source of terrorist activity."
The State Department's defense came just hours after three Israelis were killed and another severely wounded following a terror attack by a Palestinian terrorist that was described in the press as the "worst bloodshed" in years.
The official maintained that there is "no justification for any acts of terrorism," but said the section of the report focusing on Israel is meant to help U.S. officials understand regional tensions.
"This section of the report—which is based on input from our embassies around the world—is intended to inform our efforts to counter radicalization to violence, and to better understand what might be assessed as motivations that could drive individuals towards violence," the official said. "But this is not intended in any way to condone these acts or to justify them. As we said, there is no justification for any act of terrorism."
The State Department would not specifically address Roskam's concerns about the factual inaccuracies surrounding the report's claims that Israel is to be blamed for terrorism, as well as its claim that Palestinian calls for violence against Israel are "rare" and not tolerated by Palestinian Authority leadership.
"Explicit calls for violence against Israelis, direct exhortations against Jews, and categorical denials by the [Palestinian Authority] of the possibility of peace with Israel are rare and the leadership does not generally tolerate it," the original report stated.
Roskam called this characterization "demonstrably false," citing multiple instances in which Palestinian officials and state-sanctioned media organs promote violence, terrorism, and attacks against Israel and Jews.
Multiple sources who spoke to the Free Beacon, including Trump administration insiders and senior Congressional officials, expressed shock at the State Department's response to Roskam's letter and cited it as proof that Tillerson department is dramatically departing from the White House's own policy on these matters.
"Palestinians hate and kill Israelis because they're taught from a very young age to hate and kill Jews," one veteran Middle East expert who advises the White House on Israel policy said. "Of course the Obama administration never liked to admit that, but everyone around President Trump understands it."
Officials appointed by the Obama administration still work in key State Department positions, the source noted.
"The problem is that the Obama team spent eight years filling the State Department with career staffers who think exactly like they think, and those people are still running things," the source said. "Some really good people have tried to clean house, but every time anything got going Tillerson went to the president personally to protect the Obama holdovers. So they feel safe producing this kind of mind-numbing nonsense and sending it to Congress."
One senior Congressional official who works on the Middle East situation expressed shock at the State Department's defense of its report and subsequent claims about the unknown source of terror against Israel.
"Chalking up Palestinian terrorism to anything other than deep-seated anti-Semitism is not only disgraceful, but a reinvention of history," the source said. "Palestinians are brainwashed by their governments from birth to hate Jews and celebrate suicide bombers. Countering terrorism against Israelis first and foremost requires clarity, which the State Department evidently lacks."
The source slammed the State Department from departing from clear policy positions outlined by President Donald Trump and the White House.
"This is not what the American people voted for when they elected President Trump, and they deserve better," the source said. "Members of Congress and the hardworking citizens they represent will not tolerate this nonsense."
A second source, also a senior congressional official intimately involved in the issue, said the sources of Palestinian radicalization are well established.
"Money, fame, and education are the driving factors here, let's not kid ourselves," the source said. "We're dealing with a community whose government openly lauds child murderers as national heroes and rewards terrorists with large sums of cash. Our State Department needs to focus on combating the PA's heinous policies instead of praising terrorist-supporters and philosophizing incoherently about the sources of radicalization."