WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump appeared to threaten to cut off assistance to the Palestinians, saying they were not interested in making peace with Israel.
Trump’s apparent threat came Tuesday in a tweet, one in a succession in which he upbraided Pakistan for taking American aid and not doing enough to combat terrorism.
“It’s not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing, but also many other countries, and others,” he said. “As an example, we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect."
It’s not clear what Trump meant by having taken Jerusalem “off the table.” The Palestinians last month walked away from Trump administration attempts to revive the peace process after Trump broke with 70 years of US executive branch policy and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
. Trump emphasized at the time that his recognition did not presume the final status of the city, which the Palestinians also claim as a capital.
The President's tweets follow plans disclosed by his UN ambassador earlier on Tuesday to stop funding UNRWA, a United Nations agency that provides humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees.
US threatens to withhold aid cash to Palestinians, January 3, 2018 (Reuters)
"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," Ambassador Nikki Haley told reporters when asked about future US funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees.
"The Palestinians now have to show to the world that they want to come to the table. As of now, they're not coming to the table but they asked for aid. We're not giving the aid, we're going to make sure that they come to the table and we want to move forward with the peace process," she said.
The US is the largest donor to the agency, with a pledge of nearly $370 million as of 2016, according to UNRWA's website.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has since said that he is not willing to return to talks as long as the United States is the sole mediator.
Abbas has called the Trump administration's decision on Jerusalem the "greatest crime" and a flagrant violation of international law, and said it was unacceptable for the United States to have a role in the Middle East peace process because it was biased in favor of Israel.
Trump’s top negotiators in the peace process are his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt. Neither has indicated that they see the peace process as suspended; Greenblatt was in Israel last week to advance the effort.
US funding for the Palestinians is $260 million, separate from about $50 million that helps pay for Palestinian security services. Congress is considering measures, backed by the centrist and right-wing pro-Israel community, that would slash all but a small portion of the humanitarian aid. Israel opposes slashing security assistance, as it is seen as a means of keeping the West Bank quiet.
Israel's Deputy Defense Minister, Eli Ben Dahan, responded to the Trump tweets on Army Radio Wednesday morning. "Finally the US President tells the Palestinians the truth. These Arabs have cheated the world for years. They took money from donor countries and instead of building a state, the leaders lined their own pockets," he said. "If the Palestinians refuse to talk, we [Israel] will benefit. The state of Israel will grow and the settlement project will grow."
Palestinian officials responded fiercely to Trump's threat.
"Palestinian rights are not for sale," said Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee. "By recognizing Occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Donald Trump has not only violated international law, but he has also singlehandedly destroyed the very foundations of peace and condoned Israel’s illegal annexation of the city. We will not be blackmailed. 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 action."
Former Palestinian minister Ashraf Al Ajrami was also interviewed on Army Radio and said that following Trump's statements, hope had ended for a diplomatic process.
"It is absurd," Ajrami said. "He speaks in Israel's favor without mentioning a single word about the Palestinian national interests."
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