U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a question as he speaks to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., March 29, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JOSHUA ROBERTS)
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump decided to stop programs of foreign aid for three states in the Northern Triangle – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, who are known to have a strong relationship with Israel. Trump is cutting off nearly $500 million to put pressure on the three governments to stop their citizens from trying to cross the Mexican border into the US. However, it could also jeopardize the Israeli efforts to convince Honduras to move its Embassy to Jerusalem.
Last week, in his speech at the AIPAC policy conference, President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras said that he would open a commercial office in Jerusalem – but not an embassy.
Just three months ago, things were moving in a positive direction. A trilateral meeting between Hernández, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary of State Pompeo was followed by an announcement from the government of Honduras, saying it opened a dialogue with Netanyahu to explore the possibility of opening an embassy in Jerusalem.
After the trilateral meeting, Israeli media outlets indicated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was trying to mediate a deal between Honduras and United States to secure the continuing of foreign aid to the country in exchange for opening a Honduran embassy in Jerusalem.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington, as well Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office did not respond for a comment request from The Jerusalem Post on that matter. Another country that would face a cut in foreign aid is Guatemala – the only country that followed the US and moved the embassy to Jerusalem.
Dennis Ross, former special assistant to President Barack Obama and a distinguished fellow at The Washington Institute, told the Post that he thinks the issue has less to do with Israel and more to do with an American interest.
“I find hard to understand,” Ross said. “The foreign aid is necessary to create better conditions in those countries so there’s less of a need for people to feel they have no choice but to leave. From an American standpoint, I don’t see the logic of it. I think it actually will add to the problem. It won’t relieve the problem.”
When asked about Trump’s administration approach to cut foreign aid in other parts of the world as well, Ross said: “Part of the problem is they have this image that somehow it’s a huge amount of money. It’s a very minimal part of our budget. And to the extent to which you can contribute to stability and reduce the potential for conflicts – conflicts that could suck us in – that would cost, as we see, dramatically more. You can’t even compare the difference between what we spend on foreign assistance versus what it costs us per day when we actually have troops on the ground someplace. I think the foreign assistance is a low cost investment in trying to reduce conflicts and instability.”
A surge of asylum seekers from these three countries have sought to enter the United States across the southern border in recent days. On Friday, Trump accused the nations of having “set up” migrant caravans and sent them north. He said, there is a “very good likelihood” he would close the border this week if Mexico did not stop immigrants from reaching the United States. Frequent crossers of the border, including workers and students, are worried about the disruption to their lives that the president’s threatened shutdown could cause.
New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Trump’s order a “reckless announcement” and urged Democrats and Republicans alike to reject it.
Trump told reporters, at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Friday, that the United States was paying the three countries “tremendous amounts of money,” but was not receiving anything in return.
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