Top PLO official says Trump threatened to ‘starve Palestinian children’

Saeb Erekat pans US warning that it could cut hundreds of millions in aid, calls on American president to ‘stop encouraging international anarchy’

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat talks during a press conference with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi, not pictured, at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, October 2, 2011. (Amr Nabil/AP)
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat talks during a press conference with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi, not pictured, at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, October 2, 2011. (Amr Nabil/AP)

A senior Palestinian official on Wednesday said that US President Donald Trump’s threat to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid would lead to children starving in refugee camps and that the America leader was emboldening Israel to commit crimes against international law.

For years the “Palestinian leadership has engaged in good faith in numerous meetings and encounters with the US administration,” said Saeb Erekat, the longtime senior Palestinian negotiator, after a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s political committee in Ramallah.

Erekat slammed the American president for being unreasonable with the Palestinians and accused Trump, by his actions, of encouraging “the Israeli occupation to consolidate its occupation and apartheid regime.”

“Now, he is threatening to starve Palestinian children in refugee camps and deny their natural rights to health and education if we don’t endorse his terms and dictations,” Erekat said, referring to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“Instead of treating the Palestinians with fairness, President Trump has chosen a game of blame rather being an honest broker,” Erekat said. “His statements against the Palestinian people have encouraged Israel to continue its heinous crimes and violations of International Law.”

Palestinian children during a heatwave at the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on July 2, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Erekat pointed to what he said were other US moves against the Palestinians, including efforts to close the PLO mission in Washington, and made an  apparent reference to a bill that would cut economic aid to the Palestinian Authority if it continues to pay wages to the families of terrorists who attacked Israelis.

“We call upon President Trump and his administration to stand on the right side of history, to respect international law and to stop encouraging international anarchy and violations of the basic requirements of peace,” added Erekat.

Erekat recently underwent a lung transplant at a Virginia hospital.

Tensions between the US and Palestinians reached a breaking point after Trump’s December 6 recognition of the Israeli capital, with the Palestinian leadership declaring that it would no longer accept Washington as a peace broker.

Earlier Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s office responded to Trump’s aid threat by saying that Jerusalem is “not for sale.”

“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.

Following the US president’s declaration on Jerusalem, 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 some $600 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.

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