USAID to lay off 85% of local staff as aid to Palestinians is cut – report

USAID to lay off 85% of local staff as aid to Palestinians is cut – report

Missions in West Bank and Gaza won’t shutter entirely, but employees expect team of 100 to be whittled down to 14 in coming months

US consul general in Jerusalem Jacob Walles (2nd R) looks at USAID donations donated to the Palestinians in the west Bank town of Ramallah on May 10, 2006. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
US consul general in Jerusalem Jacob Walles (2nd R) looks at USAID donations donated to the Palestinians in the west Bank town of Ramallah on May 10, 2006. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

The US Agency for International Development, responsible for civilian foreign aid, is reportedly preparing to lay off the majority of its local staff as the last of American aid for Palestinian civilians is terminated.

USAID intends to fire 85 percent of its local staff from its missions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, whittling its 100 or so employees down to 14, according to a Thursday report in NPR that cited internal agency communications.

The vast majority of the workers were Palestinian or Arab Israelis, though a small number were Jewish Israelis, the report said.

Last month, USAID held mandatory termination hearings for its staff in preparation for the layoffs that agency employees are expecting sometime in July.

A number of current employees told NPR they were recently notified about the impending layoffs, and an agency official confirmed to the radio station that USAID was taking measures to reduce its “staffing footprint.”

A Palestinian carries a box of vegetable oil as he walks past bags of flour on a truck donated by USAID, or the United States Agency for International Development, at a depot in the West Bank village of Anin near Jenin, June 4, 2008 (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)

The unnamed official said local USAID offices would remain open despite the layoffs, which he blamed on the Trump administration slashing billions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.

“We are not currently taking steps to close the USAID West Bank and Gaza mission,” he said. “Given the cessation of USAID programs in West Bank and Gaza, coupled with our commitment to proper stewardship of taxpayer dollars, we have begun to take steps to reduce our staffing footprint.”

USAID has provided more than $5.5 billion to the Palestinians since 1994 for infrastructure, health, education, governance and humanitarian aid programs, all intended to underpin the eventual creation of an independent state.

Since taking office, US President Donald 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.

In this Jan. 14, 2018 photo, a Palestinian woman has her child checked at an UNRWA-run clinic in the Shati refugee camp, Gaza City. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

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 desperately needed water treatment facilities in the blockaded Gaza Strip, have also been put on hold in recent months.

The White House says 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. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem — which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed — as the capital of their future state.

Unlike his Republican and Democratic predecessors, Trump has notably refused to endorse the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His peace team, led by son-in-law Jared Kushner, has repeatedly pushed back the release of a peace plan it says it is preparing, and it remains unclear when it will be released.

Kushner’s team has said little about its proposal. But its limited public statements have indicated it will call for large amounts of economic investment in the Palestinians, but given no sign that it will include their demand for independence.

In this July 25, 2017 file photo, White House Senior Adviser and envoy, Jared Kushner, listens at right as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

On Thursday, Kushner told diplomats the plan would be rolled out after the new Israeli government is sworn in and following the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends June 5.

But new Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the Trump peace plan will be “born dead.”

“There are no partners in Palestine for Trump. There are no Arab partners for Trump and there are no European partners for Trump,” Shtayyeh said during a wide-ranging interview this week with The Associated Press.

Shtayyeh was taken to task by Trump’s peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, for his comments to the AP.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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