US cuts bilateral aid to Palestinians to force leaders to negotiate deal with Israel

The $200 million cut represents a majority of the Palestinian aid that Trump and the US Congress approved for this fiscal year.
Sunday 02/09/2018
US Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks at the Department of State in Washington. (AFP)
Pressure move. US Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks at the Department of State in Washington. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump’s decision to cut $200 million in aid to Palestinians has been assailed by a wide range of officials, including US senators, a former ambassador to Israel and a former Israeli military spokesman who said the aid reduction would further destabilise the region.

The cut, announced August 23, marked another attempt by the Trump administration to force Palestinian leaders to negotiate a peace plan with Israel.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert defended the $200 million aid reduction to journalists who noted the money goes directly to help Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and does not go through the Palestinian Authority, which Trump has sharply criticised.

“That money at this time is not in the best interests of the US national interest and also at this time does not provide value to the US taxpayer,” Nauert said, blaming the humanitarian crisis in Gaza on Hamas, which controls the area.

Nauert said other countries should “step up and take responsibility” for aiding Palestinians. “We believe that the United States alone does not have to shoulder a disproportionate share of financing programmes overseas. The United States is the most generous country in the world and we continue by and large to be the most significant donor to many programmes around the world.”

The Trump administration’s aid announcement was the same day that Sean Carroll, president of the relief group Anera, said conditions in Gaza were deteriorating each day.

“Gaza is on the brink of catastrophe,” Carroll said during a presentation at the Arab Centre Washington DC. The unemployment rate recently jumped from 49% to 59% while the electricity supply has fallen in half, to about four hours a day, in the past year and hospitals are starved of drugs and medical supplies, Carroll said.

The cut in aid to the Palestinians was assailed for punishing Palestinians and exacerbating political tensions. Noting that Gazans are “already suffering severe hardships,” US Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, said the Palestinian people “will most directly suffer the consequences of this callous and ill-advised attempt to respond to Israel’s security concerns.”

Daniel Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration, said the aid cut is “a terrible decision by Trump’s team, which seems to think it will put pressure on the Palestinians to come to the table (it won’t).”

The $200 million cut represents a majority of the $250 million in Palestinian aid that Trump and the US Congress approved for this fiscal year. Most of the money that has been released went to support the Palestinian Authority’s security forces.

Peter Lerner, a former spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces, wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the aid cut would “only empower the radicals” and that “hard-balling the Palestinians into submission is likely to blow up on Israel’s doorstep.”

The United States announced the cut in aid to Palestinian days after it said it would not fund $230 million to help stabilise Syria as Trump tries to withdraw the United States from the Syrian conflict. That move drew little reaction because US officials said the cut would be more than offset by an additional $300 million that is to be provided by various countries, notably US ally Saudi Arabia, which pledged $100 million.

US officials have not said how the money originally earmarked for the Palestinians and Syria would be spent.