Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this year asked the US to transfer funds to Palestinian security forces in the West Bank to support their counter-terror efforts, but US President Donald Trump responded that Netanyahu should pay them himself, Axios reported on Wednesday.
According to the report by Barak Ravid, who is also a Channel 13 reporter in Israel, the Israeli request came after the State Department discovered $12 million in funds earmarked for the Palestinians that had not been transferred amid American aid cuts to the Palestinians.
Israel, which is keen to preserve security ties with the Palestinian Authority, which cooperates with its security forces in the West Bank, asked that the money be handed over to the security apparatuses. But Trump refused, noting his policy of defunding the PA over its decision to cut ties with his administration.
When Jerusalem pressed him, the report said, Trump replied: “If it is that important to Netanyahu he should pay the Palestinians $12 million.”
US aid to the Palestinian security services ended earlier this year at the Palestinians’ request in order to preempt lawsuits over alleged support for terrorism. The PA demanded the funding stop at the end of January for fear it could expose the it to costly lawsuits under the US Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA), which came into force on February 1.
The ATCA legislation passed by Congress last year provides for any government that receives funding to be subject to US counterterrorism laws.
The PA faces potential lawsuits from families of American victims of past Palestinian attacks.
The aid of around $60 million a year, according to the US State Department, was in support of Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, which cooperate closely with their Israeli counterparts against Hamas and other groups.
Media reports at the time stated that Israeli officials expressed concern to the US about the impact of the security cut and encouraged them to find a workaround.
Israeli and US officials regularly accuse the PA of encouraging violence by providing funds to the families of convicted or suspected terrorists held by Israel or of those who died while carrying out attacks against Israelis. The PA says the payments are a form of welfare to the families who have lost their main breadwinner and denies it seeks to encourage violence.
Since taking office, Trump has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars of aid for Palestinians, including all of its support for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and nearly $200 million earmarked for humanitarian programs in the West Bank and Gaza.
Last year, the cuts abruptly ended food assistance to 180,000 Palestinians on behalf of the World Food Program, and defunded several health initiatives and hospitals. Infrastructure projects, including water treatment facilities in the Gaza Strip, have also been put on hold.
The White House has said that the unprecedented aid cuts are aimed at pressuring the Palestinian Authority, which has rebuffed US peace efforts since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.