By citing “high priority projects elsewhere,” the Trump administration is cutting more than $200 million in bilateral aid to Palestinians. Many speculate the decision is in response to a tenuous relationship with Palestinian leaders that has deteriorated since the president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The State Department notified Congress in a concise, three-paragraph missive mentioning the Islamist militant group Hamas’ control of Gaza as part of its justification for reallocating the funds:
“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.”
But another reason the U.S. is making the drastic move against the Palestinian Authority is due to the financial rewards it bestows upon the families of Palestinians killed, injured or jailed for making attacks on Israel. It’s called the “Martyr’s Fund,” and President Trump and Israeli leaders have repeatedly demanded that those payments be terminated as they are an encouragement to commit acts of terrorism.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has turned a deaf ear towards both.
The Peace Plan
Palestinians have long claimed East Jerusalem – half of a city claimed by Muslims, Jews, and Christians as holy ground – for the capital of an independent state they seek. But Israel says Jerusalem is its eternal and indivisible capital, leaving no wiggle room for negotiation.East Jerusalem
The timing of the announcement to slash humanitarian aid unfortunately coincides with Trump’s confidant and son-in-law Jared Kushner, in collaboration with Jason Greenblatt, in rolling out a peace plan meant to encourage negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Critics fear this latest act by the Trump administration will only exacerbate the tense situation in the region.
And it has already sounded the alarm with Palestinian leaders.
Line in the Sand
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) immediately responded with a statement from Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi, who clearly bristled at the latest move from President Trump and stated, “The Palestinian people and leadership will not be intimidated and will not succumb to coercion.” Ashrawi went further, issuing a clear denouncement of the U.S.:
“There is no glory in constantly bullying and punishing a people under occupation. The U.S. 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.”
The dialogue does not bode well for ongoing peace plans in the already hostile reception from Palestinian leaders. Ambassador Husam Zomlot, head of the PLO General Delegation to the United States, said in a statement, “Weaponizing humanitarian and developmental aid as political blackmail does not work.”
In January, the Trump administration announced it would withhold $65 million of $125 million that had been earmarked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), of which the United States is the largest contributor.
UNRWA was founded in 1949, shortly after the first Arab-Israel war. The outcome of the skirmish led to 700,000 Palestinians forced to flee and relocating to Gaza and Jordan. The organization provides aid to 5 million Palestinian refugees – which includes descendants of the original refugees.
The UNRWA and the Palestinians were fast to warn of impending blowback following Trump’s decision, but U.S. National Security adviser John Bolton told Reuters UNRWA is “a failed mechanism” that has violated accepted international law.Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and President Donald Trump
The State Department’s notice to Congress was three paragraphs in length and short on explanation, leaving more questions than answers for why they are cutting “more than $200 million” in humanitarian aid. Even that number remains secretive as there were no line item specifics given.
Is this brand of Trumplomacy going to bring Hamas to its knees and liberate the stranglehold on the region by the terrorist organization? Or will millions of innocent Palestinian citizens be punished for being at the wrong place in the wrong time?
There is one irrefutable fact: if Palestinian President Abbas and PLO figureheads would drop the antagonistic attitudes towards the administration and come to the negotiating table with good intentions, their people would get the aid they need. If they want to play posturing games with the U.S. and starve their own people, then the blame will lay solidly at the feet of the Palestinian Authority.