Rebuffing Trump aid threat, Palestinians say Jerusalem ‘not for sale’

US president ‘sabotaged our search for peace, freedom and justice’ in recognizing Israel’s capital, senior official fumes

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he speaks during a joint press conference with French president following their meeting at the Elysee presidential Palace, in Paris, on December 22, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Francois Mori)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he speaks during a joint press conference with French president following their meeting at the Elysee presidential Palace, in Paris, on December 22, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Francois Mori)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s office said Wednesday that Jerusalem is “not for sale” after US President Donald Trump threatened to cut annual aid of more than $300 million to force them to the negotiating table.

“Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the state of Palestine and it is not for sale for gold or billions,” Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told AFP, referring to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Following the US president’s December 6 declaration, Abbas said the US had relinquished its traditional role as the mediator of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. He has also refused to meet with American officials regarding the peace process.

“We are not against going back to negotiations, but (these should be) based on international laws and resolutions that have recognized an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Abu Rudeineh said.

His comments came hours after Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian National Council, said the Palestinians would not be “blackmailed” by US threats.

“President Trump has sabotaged our search for peace, freedom and justice. Now he dares to blame the Palestinians for the consequences of his own irresponsible actions!” she said in a statement.

US President Donald Trump speaks with reporters as he arrives for a New Year’s Eve gala at his Mar-a-Lago resort, December 31, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Acknowledging his push to broker peace in the Middle East had stalled, Trump on Tuesday threatened to cut off all aid to the PA, asking why Washington should make “any of these massive future payments” when the Palestinians were “no longer willing to talk peace.”

The United States currently gives the PA over $300 million in annual aid.

In a tweet, the president dismissed Palestinian fury over his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying he had planned for Israel “to pay” in future negotiations for his declaration. But Palestinian intransigence was now preventing any progress on peace talks, he said.

Washington was paying the Palestinian Authority hundreds of millions of dollars a year “for nothing,” he wrote, complaining that the US received “no appreciation or respect” in return.

“They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel,” he said. “We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more.

“But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace,” he went on, “why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

Trump has, in the past, voiced support in principle for legislation that would substantially cut US aid to the PA if it continues its practice of paying the families of terrorists who kill Israelis. The White House has not yet taken a firm position on that bill — called the Taylor Force Act — and said it would monitor the legislation as it works its way through Congress.

US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks to reporters at United Nations headquarters, January 2, 2018 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

Earlier on Tuesday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley threatened to cut off funding to the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, if the Palestinians refused to engage in peace negotiations.

“I think the president has basically said that he doesn’t want to give any additional funding until the Palestinians are agreeing to come back to the negotiation table,” Haley told reporters. “We’re trying to move for a peace process but if that doesn’t happen the president is not going to continue to fund that situation.”

The US was the biggest donor to UNRWA in 2016, giving $368,429,712. It is also the largest overall supplier of financial support for the Palestinians.

Tuesday’s tweets marked a tacit admission by Trump that his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there has thrown a wrench into his administration’s plans to restart the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, which he had dubbed “the ultimate deal.”

Trump tasked son-in-law Jared Kushner with restarting the effort, and brought his former attorney, Jason Greenblatt, into the White House to lead the negotiations. Trump’s Mideast peace team had held meetings with Israeli, Palestinian and Arab leaders for nearly a year ahead of an expected peace proposal.

On Sunday, the PA said it was recalling its envoy to the United States for consultations, in protest of US actions. It later said the ambassador would return.

Trump has said his decision merely recognized the reality that Jerusalem already serves as Israel’s capital and wasn’t meant to prejudge the final borders of the city.

When Trump declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, he insisted that the move would improve, not hurt, prospects for clinching a peace deal.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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