On January 2nd, Trump denounced Palestinians on Twitter, saying that Washington gives them “HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.” He added: “with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
Following Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would refuse to allow the United States to continue as a broker in the decades-long conflict, and that the Palestinians will not move forward in peace talks without Jerusalem.
Then, on January 16th, Trump announced that he will be withholding $65 million dollars in humanitarian aid originally promised to the Palestinians. Although the U.S. will still be giving $60 million, more than half of the total funding has been cut in response to Palestinian leaders’ refusal to accept Trump’s new terms regarding Jerusalem.
The U.S. aid was designated for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, a UN group that provides assistance to millions of displaced Palestinians. The agency uses that money to further education and distribute food to Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and to refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.
Foreign Policy reports that one million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip alone benefit from the humanitarian efforts, and the move by the Trump administration could put millions at serious risk.
After Trump’s threat to cut aid, Abbas responded in a public speech, “Damn your money!” Abbas said that Palestinians could not be bought with U.S. money, and that the money would be raised by other means.
Many governments and international NGOs condemned Trump’s announcement, noting the effective work UNRWA does for Palestinian citizens. UNRWA warns of a “catastrophic outcome” if U.S. funding is eliminated. UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl said that the cut in U.S. aid “threatens one of the most successful and innovative human development endeavors in the Middle East.”
Even many Israelis, including the Israeli Defense Forces, warn that the Trump decision could destabilize the region (for example, if the Palestinian Authority dissolved for lack of funding).
Jeremy Ben-Ami, of the U.S. Jewish lobbying organization J Street, tweeted:
“In threatening to cut off future ‘huge’ payments to the Palestinians, the president is actually posing a direct threat to Israel’s security & wellbeing. American aid supports training for Palestinian security forces who have been partners of the IDF in preventing terror.”
There are some Israelis, however, who claim that UNRWA supports Palestinian terrorism and furthers anti-Israel propaganda. Naftali Bennett, Israel’s far-right Minister of Education, approves of cutting aid to UNRWA. Bennett also vehemently opposes the establishment of any Palestinian state, and supports a move that would allow Israel to annex 62% of the Occupied Territories. When Trump was elected, Bennett announced: “The era of the Palestinian state is over.”
Both Palestinians and Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital. According to Abbas, Palestinians have been short-changed with the offer to have as its new capital a much smaller region of Jerusalem, Abu Dis (over which Palestinians already have jurisdiction).
The New York Times reports that State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that Trump’s threat was not meant to be punitive to Palestinians. She claimed that the decrease in U.S. funding should simply encourage other nations and organizations to donate in its place.
However, statements by Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, called the credibility of the spokeswoman’s claims into question. Haley said that Trump’s threats to decrease aid were a direct result of Palestinian refusals to meet with Israel on peace talks.
Although there is increasing political pressure for Trump to reinstate Palestinian funding, it seems unlikely he will have a change of heart. After all, the last few months have clearly demonstrated that Trump stands with Israel on the controversial Jerusalem issue, along with a good many related issues.
Even if Trump reconsiders his decision, a total of only $125 million would be donated to UNRWA, compared with the $355 million the U.S. gave last year.
Annual U.S. aid to Israel totals about 3.8 billion dollars.
by Annika Hom (Boston, Massachusetts)