US slashes aid to Palestinians by more than $200 million
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US slashes aid to Palestinians by more than $200 million

State Department says decision came following Trump-ordered review meant to ensure funds were ‘spent in accordance with US national interests’

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) listens as US President Donald Trump speaks to the press before a meeting at New York's Palace Hotel during the 72nd UN General Assembly on September 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) listens as US President Donald Trump speaks to the press before a meeting at New York's Palace Hotel during the 72nd UN General Assembly on September 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has decided to cut more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians, the State Department announced Friday, suggesting those tax-payer funds no longer served American interests.

The move is the ostensible result a review of US assistance to the Palestinian Authority that US President Donald Trump ordered in January, following Palestinian outrage over his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there.

“As a result of that review, at the direction of the president, we will direct more than $200 million … in Economic Support Funds originally planned for programs in the West Bank and Gaza,” a State Department official said. “Those funds will now address high-priority projects elsewhere.”

This is not the first time Trump has cut longstanding aid bound to the Palestinians. In January, the White House announced it also would withhold $65 million in assistance to the UN relief agency for Palestinians.

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.

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.

A Palestinian woman sits with a child after receiving food supplies from the United Nations’ offices at the United Nations’ offices in the Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, February 11, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

“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.

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.

Friday’s move was immediately castigated by the Palestinians, who said the cuts were “cheap blackmail.”

PLO Executive Committee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi said the Trump 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.”

Liberal US Jewish groups also cast the cuts as detrimental to efforts, and said they would exacerbate Palestinian suffering.

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 Associated Press contributed to this report.

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