On August 9, 2001, Malki Roth, 15, was murdered along with 14 civilians in the infamous Sbarro suicide bombing in Jerusalem.
A 21-year-old Jordanian woman named Ahlam Tamimi had selected the target, visited it multiple times and physically brought the suicide bomber there to carry out the attack.
Tamimi was arrested a few weeks later and eventually sentenced to 16 full life terms in jail, but was released in 2011, as part of the Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange.
Tamimi though did not go into retirement. She went on a “bragging tour” speaking regularly about her uniquely heinous actions. She even became a popular media personality in Jordan and other Arab countries.
In 2017, there was another development in the case: The US issued a request for Tamimi’s extradition. The reason? Roth was not only Israeli, but American as well.
Given that Jordan’s King Abdullah is heavily reliant on US military and economic assistance, quick compliance could have expected.
Instead, what has followed according to Malki’s father, Arnold Roth, has been “an egregious failure of justice.”
How has Jordan avoided extraditing Tamimi to the US? What have Israel, the US State Department and the US Justice Department done about the situation?
Over a series of several months, The Jerusalem Post spoke to a mix of current and former officials in all of the relevant positions in the US and Israel to try to diagnose what has happened and whether there is any hope for extraditing Tamimi in the future.
Part of this may turn on how US President Joe Biden’s administration views the case, as well as if a new prime minister, say Naftali Bennett, takes over in Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, it should be noted, refused to comment for this piece.
But former officials connected to Netanyahu or the government made clear that there were two reasons why Israel is not playing an active role: the first was the Schalit exchange; the second is the need to protect Jordan’s King Abdullah from any perceived threat to his rule.
The idea is that once Netanyahu decided to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in 2011, including a sizable number with “blood on their hands,” there was no going back.
According to this thinking, the Schalit deal, as with other national security decisions, was a complex calculation with no “win-win” scenarios, only hard trade-offs, and that overall, the deal’s benefits justified its costs.
At the time he cut the deal, Netanyahu had a windfall of around 80% supporting it, and he made sure to greet Schalit on live television with the defense minister and the IDF chief.
But not long after, the deal turned into one of Netanyahu’s greatest blemishes for which he has been repeatedly attacked within the right-wing camp.
Officials involved in aspects of the Schalit deal say they were shocked at how toxic politics led Netanyahu to turn on the families of the victims of terrorists, like Tamimi, who were released in the deal.
“We’ve never seen ourselves to be involved in any foreign policy debate. The very notion that foreign policy would dictate how the government of Israel approaches justice is repugnant. We regarded the Schalit deal as a catastrophic series of mistakes without ever campaigning against it,” Arnold Roth said.
“We try to get the government of Israel to remove this one extraordinary individual - who was sentenced to 16 lifetime terms and recommended by three judges never to be paroled – to be taken off the list... No one could convince me that removing her would imperil the deal... Since then... Israel slammed the door in our faces,” he said.
Emi Palmor, the former director-general of the Justice Ministry, was a key official in the ministry’s pardons department at the time of the Schalit deal.
Palmor said that she was in touch with 30 to 40 families, including the Roths, to gather information and present that information to the political and security officials making the Schalit deal decisions.
“Could I tell the prime minister – you can’t release Ahlam Tamimi if Roth is against it? No. But I did demand that they have the information,” she said.
Roth said Palmor was the only official who gave them the time of day.
Israeli officials noted that Jerusalem has not done anything to assist the US with its extradition request, including refraining from pressuring King Abdullah. This stems from concern for Jordan’s stability.
Senior US State Department officials noted that while Abdullah has no love for Tamimi, giving her up to America would put the king in a very difficult position with his own people.
Basically, Tamimi is a Catch-22 for Abdullah – he doesn’t want an agitator with ties to Hamas like her. But he also cannot give her up without looking like he is siding with Israel and foreigners.
ALL OF this means that the US’ diplomatic dilemma is stark.
Yes, the US has huge leverage over Jordan – but how hard does it want to push?
Sources said that there were numerous overtures, but that at the end, the US was not prepared to say ‘we will cut you off financially if you do not comply,’ which meant it was a dead-end.
The US has knocked heads with Jordan in the past over certain issues related to terrorism. One notable case was when it green-lit civil damages in the terrorism case brought against the Arab Bank.
That led to a massive court judgment and settlement in 2015, despite Jordan’s appeal to then-US president Barack Obama’s administration to intervene based on the idea that too large a judgment could tank the country’s almost sovereign bank, which could in turn topple Abdullah.
US government sources said that the Arab Bank case was not a fair analogy.
That case involved a final court verdict, money as opposed to people, and the ability to confidentially negotiate a midpoint settlement.
The Arab Bank is technically a private bank and cooperating with the US court judgment was not perceived as the king betraying his people.
Pressed why the US Department of Justice has said nothing about the case since its public 2017 extradition request, the response was that the bigger question was why anything was done publicly in 2017 at all.
Sources said that the announcement in 2017 was a departure from keeping extradition proceedings completely secret until they succeed.
Regarding whether Jordan has an extradition treaty in effect with the US or not, officials said that the US Justice Department believes it has a basis under American law to obtain custody and prosecute Tamimi.
However, sources disclaimed attacking Jordanians about whether they had misinterpreted their commitment to the treaty or their own law.
The controversy is that Jordan signed a treaty with the US decades ago. But shortly after the 2017 extradition request, a Jordanian court ruled that the parliament had never ratified it. So the court said the treaty was not in effect and the government was barred from extraditing Tamimi.
ROTH FUMES on this point.
Not only does he note that the US State Department lists the treaty as in effect, but it has been for decades.
He also said that King Abdullah could easily, even in 2017, have told the parliament – which answers to him – to ratify the treaty, curing any technical excuses.
Finally, Roth added that Jordan has previously extradited at least three of its citizens to the US, including: Eyad Ismoil in 1995, Mohammad Zaki Amawi in 2006 and Nader Saadeh in 2015.
Both the US State Department and Justice Department declined to comment on INTERPOL’s decision in March to drop its international red notice for Tamimi, which has prevented her from leaving Jordan since 2017.
Sources have indicated that INTERPOL’s move was unusual as its notices often stay in effect for a minimum of 10 years.
It has also been suggested that INTERPOL would not have dropped the red notice without a request to do so by the US government or at least a grudging green light.
The US State Department did not respond to questions on this issue.
American officials who the Post spoke to before the INTERPOL red notice was dropped did not seem to know that such a development was on the way.
INTERPOL did not respond to questions on its decision.
Roth was puzzled by the withdrawing of the red notice, but he said that the deportation of Ahlam Tamimi’s husband, Nizar Tamimi, from Jordan to Qatar in October, had created some hope.
In theory, the removal of the red notice would clear the way for Ahlam Tamimi to leave Jordan and reunite with her husband in Qatar, though it would be unclear what her status would be there.
If there is hope, it might be if either the Biden administration shows a greater readiness to confront Jordan than either the Obama or Trump administrations, or if a new potential prime minister, like Bennett takes an interest in the issue.
The coming months will show whether Biden, Bennett or any other new face has an interest in the issue, or whether the injustice will continue.