Palestinians: Trump using aid cuts in bid to ‘blackmail’ us to abandon Jerusalem

Aides to Abbas castigate US administration over $200 million aid cut, say White House ‘fully embracing Netanyahu’s anti-peace agenda’

In this photo from July 17, 2018, Palestinian protestors hold portraits of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and US President Donald Trump during a rally in support of the Fatah party in the West Bank city of Nablus. (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)
In this photo from July 17, 2018, Palestinian protestors hold portraits of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and US President Donald Trump during a rally in support of the Fatah party in the West Bank city of Nablus. (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman said on Saturday that the US decision to cut more than $200 million in aid is meant to force the Palestinians to abandon their claim to Jerusalem, indicating the ploy will 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.

Earlier Saturday, top Palestinian officials accused the United States of engaging in “blackmail” following the announced cuts.

A State Department official said Friday that the decision, made “at the direction of the president,” came after a review of aid programs to the Palestinians. The funding would “now address high-priority projects elsewhere”.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) executive committee, hit back, saying: “The US administration is demonstrating the use of cheap blackmail as a political tool.

“The Palestinian people and leadership will not be intimidated and will not succumb to coercion. The rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale,” Ashrawi countered.

“The US administration has already demonstrated meanness of spirit in its collusion with the Israeli occupation and its theft of land and resources; now it is exercising economic meanness by punishing the Palestinian victims of this occupation,” she wrote in a statement.

“There is no glory in constantly bullying and punishing a people under occupation,” she went on.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s envoy to the US, said in a statement that the Trump administration “is dismantling decades of US vision and engagement in Palestine.”

He charged that US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, followed by the January decision to freeze funding for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, was “another confirmation of abandoning the two-state solution and fully embracing Netanyahu’s anti-peace agenda.”

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat called the move “a provocation” and “bullying” by Trump.

The decision by the State Department was the result of a review of US assistance to the Palestinian Authority that Trump ordered in January, following the Palestinians’ boycott of the administration, the US said.

Dr. Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s General Delegation to the US. (Courtesy)

In January, the administration cut assistance to the UN relief agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, at a reported total of around $300 million.

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.

“Weaponizing humanitarian and developmental aid as political blackmail does not work,” Zomlot said.

“Only a recommitment from this administration to the long-held US policy of achieving peace through the two-state solution on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem the capital of the state of Palestine and respecting international resolutions and law will provide a way forward,” he added.

Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi speaks during a press conference on February 24, 2015 in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

The move was also criticized by some in the US, among them Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy.

“It is the Palestinian people, virtual prisoners in an increasingly volatile conflict, who will most directly suffer the consequences of this callous and ill-advised attempt to respond to Israel’s security concerns,” said Leahy, a Democrat.

The left-wing Middle East advocacy group J Street said Trump’s decision would “have a devastating impact on innocent women, children and families,” arguing that they were intended to “cruelly punish Palestinian civilians and marginalize and undercut Palestinian leadership.”

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

The Trump administration said the terror group’s control of Gaza was one of the main reasons it wanted to cease its aid to the coastal enclave.

“This decision takes into account the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance in Gaza, where Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza’s citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation,” the State Department official said.

The official did not give an exact amount of the funds to be cut, but said it is more than $200 million that was approved in 2017. The US had planned to give the Palestinians $251 million for good governance, health, education, and funding for civil society in the current budget year that ends September 30. But with just over a month to go before that money must be used, reprogrammed to other areas or returned to the Treasury, less than half has actually been spent.

Palestinians collect food aid at a United Nations food distribution center in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

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.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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