Trump threatens to cut off US aid to Palestinians over Jerusalem dispute
Haley warns US may not fund refugee agency UNRWA

Trump threatens to cut off US aid to Palestinians over Jerusalem dispute

President says he’d planned for Israel ‘to pay’ diplomatic price for his recognition of capital, but with PA ‘no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make future payments?’

US President Donald Trump speaks with the press at the White House on December 16, 2017. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)
US President Donald Trump speaks with the press at the White House on December 16, 2017. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

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

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?”

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

President 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 move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem 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 to restart 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.

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)

Following Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said the US 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, including Greenblatt.

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.

In the days after the decision, Trump administration officials said the strategy was based on the notion that Israel had lost faith in the US as a committed partner during the Obama administration. With trust in Washington restored, Netanyahu’s government would be more inclined going forward to make tough concessions that would ultimately be needed for a peace deal, the US officials argued at the time, and Israeli officials quietly indicated that they could potentially do so.

No one spelled out, however, what the Palestinians would receive in return.

US officials have been insisting that they remain intent on seeking a peace treaty. When Greenblatt came to the region two weeks ago, even though he was shunned by Ramallah, the administration insisted the peace effort remained a priority.

US President Donald Trump’s envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exchange greetings at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, July 12, 2017. (Haim Tzach/GPO)

“As we have said since the Jerusalem announcement, we anticipated reactions like the ones going on in the region but are going to remain hard at work on our peace plan,” a senior administration official told The Times of Israel at the time. “The president remains as committed to peace as ever,” the official added.

Alexander Fulbright contributed to this report.

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