The nominee for the post of America’s Ambassador to Jordan Yael Lempert promised that if confirmed she would push to ensure the extradition of terrorist Ahlam Tamimi to the United States for her role in the 2001 Jerusalem bombing that killed 15, including seven children.
“I will do everything in my power to ensure that Ahlam Tamimi faces justice in the US for her horrific crimes,” Lempert said during a Senate confirmation hearing in Washington on Thursday.
Tamimi, 43, was originally from the West Bank town of Nabi Saleh and is on the Foreign Bureau of Investigation’s list of most wanted terrorists. She moved to Jordan after she was freed from an Israeli jail in the 2011 prisoner swap for the release of captive Gilad Schalit.
The US has pushed for her extradition given that two of the victims of the attack which took place at the Sbarro pizza restaurant were American citizens; Malka Roth, 15, and Shoshana Yehudit Greenbaum, 31.
Lempert was quizzed on the issue of Tamimi by US Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who said he was determined “to get this terrorist who murdered Americans to face justice.” He explained that he had “personally raised this issue face to face, multiple times with the King of Jordan. We need to get this resolved.”
Cruz pressed Lempert, who is now the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, on whether she would support withholding military and economic assistance to Jordan over Tamimi’s extradition. He noted outgoing Ambassador to Jordan Henry Wooster had put in writing his support for that option as one possible pressure lever.
“Our relationship with Jordan is multifaceted and extremely important,” Lempert said, adding that there are some issues that the two countries would not agree on.
“I am willing to explore a variety of ways to continue this discussion with the Jordanians,” Lempert said.
Cruz vs. Lempert
Cutting financial assistance to Jordan “would need to be weighed very carefully against the range of issues and priorities that we have with the Jordanians, before considering such a step, which would be profound. I would want to get out there and try to work on this and see if we can make progress in other ways,” Lempert said.
Cruz also pushed Lempert about her stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He asked if she supported the letter former US President George Bush wrote in 2004 assuring Israel it would not be expected to withdraw from all of the West Bank settlements.
“Is it your understanding that these assurances are still the policies of the US?” Cruz asked.
Lempert said that US President Joe Biden had been clear that a two-state solution would be “along the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so I believe that speaks to the question you are raising."
Lempert to strengthen Israel’s diplomatic ties with Jordan
Under questioning from US Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, Lempert said she would work to strengthen Israel’s diplomatic ties with Jordan.
“The peace treaty between Israel and Jordan has been a pillar of stability for the past 30 years” but steps could still be taken to strengthen that relationship, Lempert said.
She would seek in particular, she said, to convince Jordan to join the Negev Forum, which was created by the Biden administration to strengthen Israel’s ties to its regional allies.
The first gathering took place last year in Israel, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his counterparts from Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco.
Jordan did not participate in that gathering or in subsequent Negev Forum meetings.
“There is an empty seat a the table of the Negev Forum, where Jordan should be,” she said. “This is a new multilateral grouping building on the Abraham Accords that really can advance peace and regional integration, but also cooperation on these transitional issues such as water, food security, health and energy,” Lempert said.
Democratic Senator Chis Van Hollen of Maryland brought asked about the status of an updated report by the US Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC) into the shooting death of Palestinian American Shireen Abu Akleh last May 11.
Abu Akleh was killed covering a firefight in the West Bank city of Jenin between the IDF and Palestinian gunmen.
Van Hollen said he had asked for a copy of the report into the circumstances of her death and was concerned that content changes had been made to the document after its completion.
Lempert said, “I want to assure you that the department has not and will not make any substantive changes to the document.” She added that it was her understanding that he would be able to review the document as “soon as possible.”
The Palestinian Authority has accused the IDF of deliberately targeting Abu Akleh, while Israel and the US have concluded it was likely she was accidentally killed by the IDF.
Lempert told Van Hollen that the State Department “continues to underscore at the level of the Secretary of State the importance of accountably for her killing and we will continue to do so.”