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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Davos 2018: Trump issues threat to cut off aid to Palestine

The US leader met with Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum

Mr Trump said that the Palestinians "disrespected" Washington a week earlier.  EPA/GIAN EHRENZELLER
Mr Trump said that the Palestinians "disrespected" Washington a week earlier. EPA/GIAN EHRENZELLER

Donald Trump ignited a firestorm on his arrival in the Swiss resort of Davos on Thursday, issuing a threat to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority unless it shows it wants to negotiate a peace deal.

Meeting Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the Davos gathering of government and business, President Trump said US aid to the Palestinians would be on hold until its leadership was willing to "sit down” to talks.

In one of a series of bilateral talks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr Trump said that the Palestinians "disrespected" Washington a week earlier by not allowing Vice President Mike Pence to see them on his trip to the Middle East. Aid funding would be off the table until there was a change of heart. "This was never brought up by any negotiators but it's brought up by me," he said.

"The money's not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace," he said. "We have a proposal for peace. It's a great proposal for the Palestinians. I think it's a very good proposal for Israel.”

President Mahmoud Abbas has called Mr Trump's declaration on Jerusalem in December the "slap of the century".

Confirming Mr Pence’s promise that the US embassy move to Jerusalem would start to happen in 2019, Mr Trump said a small presence would pave the way for a permanent instalment. His decision to announce Washington’s embassy was on the move broke with decades of US policy that the city’s status as a capital would be the product of a final deal emerging from peace negotiations.

"We took Jerusalem off the table so we don't have to talk about it anymore," he said. "What I did with Jerusalem was my honour."

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Accompanied by a large team of aides and cabinet officials, Mr Trump is expected to set out his America First agenda that challenges the globalisation that Davos has championed for decades.

There is some trepidation about what he will say. The Danish prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said he hoped Mr Trump would give assurances that the US-focus would not preclude reaching out and working with other nations. "I think everybody needs to realize, whether you are leader from a small or medium-sized or big country that you can't achieve what you want on your own," he said.

The US leader’s arrival was announced by flights of helicopters flying over Davos at around noon. Normally there is a security flight ban in the area for the protection of the high level delegations that huddle in Davos each January.

The US leader arrived at the conference centre after brief motorcade procession through the Alpine town that went past small souvenir shops, ski shops, restaurants.

“There were some JP Morgan flags posted on the route as well. The smattering of onlookers included a few waving American flags and some young kids in ski helmets,” the US pool report noted.

For those watching from the sidelines the only evidence that Mr Trump was in town was the sight of three people mounting a demonstration on the Promenade wearing masks of the US president and chanting he was not welcome. Good naturedly they posed for photographs with pedestrians.

During by the first two days of the forum the delegates appeared content with the parade of other leaders. They mingled, discussed and listened to India's Narendra Modi and Canada's Justin Trudeau among others. One delegate complained that the forum would now be "all about Trump". Another, an American financier called Trump being at the forum "the height of hypocrisy".

The first meeting on his agenda was the British leader Theresa May who was given some reassuring words that the so-called special relationship between the two states had not been damaged by the failure of the two states to organise a state visit for the man who became leader of the free world a year ago.

“It’s a false rumour” that there is tension in the US-UK relationship, he said. “We’re on the same wavelength in I think every respect”

According to the pool report the US leader said the pair were “liking each other a lot” and the two countries were “joined at the hip” when it comes to the military.

“He looked at her and said there was nothing that would happen where the US would not be there for Britain,” it added. “May also reaffirmed the special relationship. When asked about a state visit, May said it’s being discussed now. Trump seconded that.”