US Cuts over $200m in aid to Gaza and West Bank

Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner in Jerusalem, May 2017. (Photo: US Embassy, Wikimedia Commons)

The United States, a major ally of Israel, has cut more than $200m in economic aid to Palestinians, in a move that comes months after also drastically cutting its contribution to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

A senior US official said on Friday that President Donald Trump had ordered the State Department to “redirect” the funding for programmes in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip to unspecified “high-priority projects elsewhere”.

The official added that the decision took 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”.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) quickly denounced the US move, calling it “the use of cheap blackmail as a political tool. The Palestinian people and leadership will not be intimidated and will not succumb to coercion.”

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement:

“The rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale. There is no glory in constantly bullying and punishing a people under occupation. The US 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 decision to cut Palestinian funding comes amid a severe humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, where more than 170 Palestinians protesting for their right to return to the areas from which they were forcibly expelled from in 1948 have been killed by Israeli gunfire since March 30 during weeks-long demonstrations near the fence with Israel.

Officials in the Gaza Strip have previously blasted the US for its support to Israel, saying that Washington has long lost its regional credibility.

The US had planned to give the Palestinians $251m for good governance, health, education and funding for civil society in the current 2018 budget year that ends on September 30.

Washington gives Israel annual military aid of $3.1bn. Next year, that figure will increase to $3.8bn under a 10-year deal agreed by Barack Obama shortly before he stepped down as US president.

In a controversial and sharply criticized move meanwhile in January, the US government announced that it was withholding $65m of a planned $125m funding installment to the UNRWA, which provides services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon.

Relations between the US administration and the Palestinian Authority took a nosedive after Trump announced in December the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The Palestinian leadership has since suspended contacts with the administration and considers that it can no longer play a mediation role in the Middle East peace process.

Friday’s decision comes amid a vacuum in Middle East peace efforts as the US administration presses on with work on a peace plan that has been under discussion for months.

Trump has tasked his son-in-law Jared Kushner and lawyer Jason Greenblatt to draft the peace proposals.

(AJE, PC, Social Media)

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