Defending $200m funding cut, US says ‘no value to taxpayer’ in Palestinian aid
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Defending $200m funding cut, US says ‘no value to taxpayer’ in Palestinian aid

State Department spokesperson claims ‘US is the most generous country in the world but other countries should step up and take responsibility’

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, August 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, August 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Aid money to the Palestinian Authority “does not provide value to the US taxpayer,” a State Department spokesperson said Tuesday, days after the White House announced it would slash more than $200 million to Ramallah.

“That money at this time is not…[in] the US national interest and also at this time does not provide value to the US taxpayer,” Heather Nauert told reporters during a press briefing.

“The United States government has provided far more money than many other countries in the region have,” she added.

“We believe that the United States alone does not have to shoulder a disproportionate share of financing programs overseas,” she said. “The United States is the most generous country in the world and we continue, by and large, to be the most significant donor to many programs around the world, but we also feel that other countries should step up and take responsibility.”

The aid cut, announced Friday, is the ostensible result of a review of US assistance to the PA that US President Donald Trump ordered in January, following Palestinian outrage over his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there.

The funds withheld Friday are directed toward health and educational programs, as well as initiatives to make Palestinian governance more efficient. They are used in both the PA-administered West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley defended the cuts Tuesday and said Washington cannot be faulted for slashing funding when countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait don’t give more to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, and Lebanon.

She spoke at a conference in Washington hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

US President Donald Trump speaks to the Ohio Republican Party State Dinner, on August 24, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

This is not the first time Trump has cut longstanding aid bound to the Palestinians. In January, the White House announced it also would withhold $65 million in assistance to the UN relief agency for Palestinians.

Earlier this month, the administration released millions of dollars in frozen aid to the PA, but only for Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, an administration source said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman said on Saturday that the US decision was meant to force the Palestinians to abandon their claim to Jerusalem, indicating the ploy would not work.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh told the Associated Press the move was part of continuing political and financial pressure on the Palestinian leadership, and said the Americans must be fully aware that there will be no peace without East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Other Palestinian officials accused the United States of engaging in “blackmail” following the announced cuts.

Earlier this month, Foreign Policy reported that Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, has been pushing to remove the refugee status of millions of Palestinians as part of an apparent effort to shutter the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

PA President Mahmoud Abbas delivering a speech on August 15, 2018. (WAFA)

Sources in the Israeli defense establishment fear that Washington’s apparent efforts to weaken UNRWA may strengthen the Hamas terror group in Gaza and endanger Israel’s security, a Sunday report in Haaretz claimed.

They said a serious cut to UNRWA’s budget would create a vacuum in the provision of basic services in the Strip, where the majority of residents are dependent on the organization. This would be particularly felt in food shortages and a breakdown of education, which Hamas could use to strengthen its grip on the coastal enclave.

Washington’s withdrawal of the aid comes as Trump’s team tasked with brokering an Israeli-Palestinian accord is expected to release its long-awaited peace plan.

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and special envoy for Middle East peace Jason Greenblatt are expected to roll out the proposal in the near future, though they have provided no timetable for when that might happen.

Eric Cortellessa and AP contributed to this report.

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