Jerusalem fallout takes a turn for the worse as Trump threatens to cut aid
London - Palestinian officials’ disagreement with the United States over its decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital took a turn for the worse following the Trump administration’s threat to cut aid to the Palestinians and the Israeli parliament’s approval of a measure requiring a supermajority to relinquish control over any part of the holy city.
In a tweet, US President Donald Trump threatened to cut aid to the Palestinian territories. The move was in response to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas saying the United States could no longer play a role in the Middle East peace process after its stance on Jerusalem.
“We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” Trump tweeted on January 2. “With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
The United States reportedly provides the Palestinian territories with an annual average of $400 million. Israel receives more than $3 billion in US military aid per year.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the United States plans to stop funding the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees.
“The president has basically said he doesn’t want to give any additional funding or stop funding until the Palestinians agree to come back to the negotiation table,” Haley said.
The Palestinians said that they were not against negotiations but accused Trump of siding with Israel and flouting international law.
The talks should be “based on international laws and resolutions that have recognised an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, told Agence France-Presse. “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the state of Palestine and it is not for sale for gold or billions.”
In a statement, senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said Palestinians “will not be blackmailed.” She added that “President Trump has sabotaged our search for peace, freedom and justice. Now he dares to blame the Palestinians for the consequences of his own irresponsible actions!”
The tensions appear to have postponed an expected visit by US Vice- President Mike Pence to the region. “The visit is not included in our provision of scheduled visits of high-level dignitaries in January,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon.
Israeli officials voiced support for the US president.
“We are dealing with a president who says what he thinks clearly and does not resort to diplomatic convolutions that mean nothing,” Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev told Israel’s Army Radio.
Abbas’s stance of rejecting US mediation is seen as being in Israel’s favour.
“Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has accomplished one of his most cherished policy goals: Finally driving a massive wedge between the United States and the Palestinians,” Anshel Pfeffer wrote in Haaretz.
“As prime minister (initially from 1996-99 and then from 2009), Netanyahu had to contend with the new realities of the post-Oslo era… but every engagement of his with the Palestinians was slow, grudging and through gritted teeth,” Pfeffer wrote. “[The Palestinians] have given Netanyahu what he’s always wanted for Christmas.”
The Israeli parliament passed a measure that bars the government from ceding Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem without approval of at least 80 of the Knesset’s 120 members. The law is mostly symbolic as it can be overturned with a simple majority but it antagonised the Palestinians.
“This vote clearly indicates that the Israeli side has officially declared the end of the so-called political process and has already begun to impose dictatorial and de facto policies,” Abbas’s office said in a statement.
The amendment came just days after Israel’s ruling Likud Party’s central committee unanimously endorsed a resolution calling for the annexation of West Bank settlements.
Although the central committee is only an advisory body, the move is considered another step by Likud to reject the idea of establishing an independent Palestinian state as part of a future peace deal.
“To those who have long contended that Netanyahu’s Israel will never allow a Palestinian state, certainly not one with a capital in Jerusalem, and that Israel’s goal is permanent, comprehensive dominion over all the West Bank and East Jerusalem with no negotiations with Palestinians over equality of rights or self-determination, the answer came this week. The answer was — ‘You were right all along’,” wrote Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston.