In fresh blow to Palestinians, US to slash aid for East Jerusalem hospitals

Complaining that the PA rejects peace efforts, Trump administration has cut aid three weeks in a row

Illustrative: Dr. Jill Biden, wife of then-US vice president Joseph Biden, seen with Palestinian patients during a visit to the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, on March 10, 2010. (AP/Menahem Kahana, Pool)
Illustrative: Dr. Jill Biden, wife of then-US vice president Joseph Biden, seen with Palestinian patients during a visit to the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, on March 10, 2010. (AP/Menahem Kahana, Pool)

The United States will halt $25 million in aid to East Jerusalem hospitals, a State Department spokeswoman said Friday, leading to warnings of the “collapse” of medical centers that provide crucial care to Palestinians.

The fresh cuts mark the third week in a row the US has slashed financial support for the Palestinians and come a day after President Donald Trump said American aid will be withheld until a peace deal is reached with Israel.

Alessia Dinkel, the State Department spokeswoman, told National Public Radio the $25 million for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network would instead go toward other “priorities.”

The network, which is made up of six hospitals in East Jerusalem, provides healthcare such as cancer treatment and surgeries for Palestinians to whom such medical assistance is unavailable in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to the World Health Organization.

The decision to slash the aid for the hospitals, which has yet to be formally announced by the State Department, came despite a Congressional exemption included in legislation passed in March that reduces funding to the Palestinian Authority over stipends it pays to terrorists and other security prisoners and their families.

The PA’s minister for Jerusalem Affairs said the latest cuts were “not surprising at all” and vowed the Palestinians would not bend.

“Let America know that all these acts will not change our position toward our cause one bit. On the contrary, it consolidates our positions toward every issue, including Jerusalem,” Adnan Husseini told NPR.

The Augusta Victoria Hospital compound on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem (CC BY-SA Ilan Arad, Wikimedia)

The PA has boycotted the Trump administration and rebuffed its peace efforts since the US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December of last year. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem — which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed — as the capital of their future state.

The decision to cut funding for the East Jerusalem hospitals was made Thursday, the Haaretz daily reported, and came despite the opposition of Christian groups that support some of the medical centers.

Dave Harden, a former American official who headed USAID’s work in the West Bank and Gaza under the Obama administration, said the cuts were “particularly vindictive” and warned they could cause the “collapse” of the Augusta Victoria Hospital and the St. John’s Eye Hospital, two of the medical centers in the East Jerusalem network.

Last Friday, the US announced it would end all funding to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, and the previous week cut over $200 million in aid for the West Bank and Gaza.

None of the cuts, however, directly targeted aid meant for the internationally recognized PA, which last month received some $42 million in frozen funds for security cooperation with Israel.

Though hailed by Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the cuts are said to be opposed by defense officials, who fear they could fuel Palestinian unrest and in turn jeopardize Israel’s security.

US President Donald Trump, September 7, 2018. (AFP/Nicholas Kamm)

In a phone call Thursday with Jewish leaders ahead of Rosh Hashanah, Trump said he would only resume aid to the Palestinians if they agree to a deal with Israel.

“I stopped massive amounts of money that we were paying to the Palestinians and the Palestinian leaders. We were — the United States was paying them tremendous amounts of money,” he said during the call. “And I’d say, you’ll get money, but we’re not paying you until we make a deal. If we don’t make a deal, we’re not paying. And that’s going to have a little impact.

“I don’t think it’s disrespectful at all” for US aid to be utilized as a bargaining chip, the president added. Rather, “I think it’s disrespectful when people don’t come to the table.”

Trump also reiterated that his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital took the issue “off the table” and expressed optimism a peace deal could be reached.

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