US ends last of aid to Palestinian civilians, defunding coexistence programs

Democratic senator blasts halt to $10 million in assistance: ‘A sign that this White House has failed at diplomacy’

Illustrative: Israeli Jews and Palestinians talk to each other during a coexistence meeting in the West Bank, on July 22, 2015 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli Jews and Palestinians talk to each other during a coexistence meeting in the West Bank, on July 22, 2015 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The US will cut all aid to programs that bring together Palestinians and Israelis, in a move that will bring to an end all American funding of Palestinian civilians, The New York Times reported Friday.

The White House has decided to no longer support coexistence programs, as part of its general move to punish Palestinians for their refusal to engage with the administration, the report said.

The annual support for the programs through USAID, at $10 million, constitutes a quarter of the total funds for such efforts, the Times said.

The programs include joint soccer games, farming efforts and other reconciliation projects.

USAID will continue, however, to support programs that bring together Israeli Jews and Arabs.

The agency said it is “currently unable to engage Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as a result of the administration’s recent decision on Palestinian assistance.” But it added that it would continue “support for civil society working on these issues within Israel.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with Jason Greenblatt, Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

Jason Greenblatt, the Trump Administration peace envoy, appeared to confirm the move later Friday. “I continue to believe in the importance of building relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, particularly kids. But both Palestinian and Israeli kids will lose, and these programs will be meaningless, if the PA continues to condemn a plan they haven’t seen & refuses to engage on it,” Greenblatt tweeted. “Hopefully the PA will lead… let’s see…”

An aide to Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who helped build the USAID program, said the senator “regards the decision to cut off funding for the West Bank and Gaza as a sign that this White House has failed at diplomacy.

Senator Patrick Leahy on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

“This is not a partisan view. It’s the view of those who recognize that you don’t advance the cause of peace by cutting off programs that are designed to promote tolerance, understanding and address shared problems.”

Father Josh Thomas, director of Kids4Peace that connects Israeli and Palestinian children in cross-border programs, said: “We’re concerned that changes in aid would hurt the people most essential to any peace agreement by jeopardizing the momentum of organizations like ours.”

Nicholas Burns, a Harvard professor and former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, told the Times that “cutting off all American economic and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people is mean-spirited and beneath a great nations like ours.

“Republican and Democratic presidents have tried for decades to position the US as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians. President Trump has abdicated that critical role and squandered our influence and credibility with the Arab world on this critical issue. This is diplomatic malpractice of the highest order.”

Jared Kushner at a White House meeting with US President Donald Trump, January 11, 2018. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In December, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and initiated a process to move the US Embassy in the Jewish state to the city. The embassy was formally moved to Jerusalem in May.

Since Trump’s decisions on Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said the Palestinians will no longer work with a US-dominated peace process and called for the establishment of a multilaterally mediated mechanism to replace it. Israel has long held that it will only cooperate with a US-led peace process.

In the past several weeks, the US administration has cut all US funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the UN body tasked with aiding Palestinian refugees, slashed more than $200 million dollars of American aid for projects and programs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and ordered the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization representative office in Washington, DC.

US President Donald Trump addresses a Congressional Medal of Honor Society reception at the White House in Washington, DC, on September 12, 2018. (AFP/Nicolas Kamim)

In an interview published in The New York Times on Thursday, Jared Kushner, senior adviser to Trump, argued that measures the administration has taken against the Palestinians have not lessened chances of achieving a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, but rather increased them.

He  asserted that the Trump administration’s moves eliminate “false realities” related to the Middle East peace process.

In response Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah said Kushner’s comments reflected “ignorance of the reality of the conflict.”

Over the past several months, Trump administration officials have said they intend to present a plan to end the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Abbas recently has said a number of times that he would reject any American peace plan. However, he has also said at least once in the past several months that he would be willing to listen to a US peace proposal if Trump recognizes East Jerusalem as the capital of “the State of Palestine” and backs a two-state solution.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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