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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Donald Trump axes $25 million funding for East Jerusalem hospitals

The move threatens to end a crucial lifeline for Palestinians across Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza 

People walk outside of the Saint Joseph hospital in East Jerusalem on September 9, 2018. AFP
People walk outside of the Saint Joseph hospital in East Jerusalem on September 9, 2018. AFP

US President Donald Trump further cut funding to Palestinians over the weekend by withdrawing $25 million (Dh 91.9 million) set aside for hospitals in East Jerusalem in a move described as mixing politics and humanitarian issues.

The latest cut comes off the back of the US withdrawing all funding for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinians and threatens to hammer already struggling medical organisations serving Arabs across the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.

One of the centres hit by the cuts, Al Makassed Islamic Charitable Society Hospital, said the move comes as the "hospital is going through a suffocating crisis as a result of the lack of flow of financial aid, and the piling up of debts and funds held back by the Palestinian government".

It said it had received 45 million shekels (Dh 46 million) of the US money to treat patients from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. In the statement hospital CEO Dr Bassam Abu Libdeh "questioned the justification behind mixing political issues with medical and humanitarian issues."

The funding is expected to hit at least five medical centres, including the Augusta Victoria hospital near Mt Scopus and the St John Eye Hospital.

The former head of USAID in the West Bank, Dave Harden, said the decision could bring about the “collapse” of Augusta Victoria hospital.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the influence of US-based Christian groups that support the hospitals appeared to have bought East Jerusalem medical facilities a reprieve earlier this year when Congress scrutinised funding and issued a specific exemption for the centres in the Taylor Force Act that restricted US funding for Palestinians. However, this didn’t appear sufficient to sway Mr Trump’s hand.

PLO Executive Committee member Dr Hanan Ashrawi described the news as "an act of political blackmail [that] goes against the norms of human decency and morality."

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Earlier this year, Mr Trump called for a review of US assistance to the Palestinians, saying it was to ensure funds were being spent in accordance with national interests and were providing value to taxpayers.

“As a result of that review, at the direction of the President, we will be redirecting approximately $25 million originally planned for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network”, a State Department official said Saturday. “Those funds will go to high-priority projects elsewhere.”

The aid cut is the latest in a number of actions by the Trump administration that have alienated the Palestinians, including the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

That move reversed longtime US policy and led Palestinian leadership to boycott Washington peace efforts led by Jared Kushner, Mr Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law.

Last month, the Trump administration said it would withdraw $200 million in Palestinian economic support funds for programs in the West Bank and Gaza.

Thousands of Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip have been wounded by Israeli fire during regular protests in recent months along the border in response to the US recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. While the Israeli government limits travel out of the strip, they have granted approval for hundreds of wounded Palestinians to travel to East Jerusalem to receive treatment unavailable in the impoverished, blockaded enclave.

For those in Gaza with complex and chronic medical issues, East Jerusalem hospitals are a vital lifeline.

Palestinian refugees have reacted with dismay to the recent US funding cuts, warning they would lead to more poverty, anger and instability in the Middle East.

A statement from the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said the latest aid cut was part of a U.S. attempt "to liquidate the Palestinian cause" and said it would threaten the lives of thousands of Palestinians and the livelihoods of thousands of hospital employees.

"This dangerous and unjustified American escalation has crossed all red lines and is considered a direct aggression against the Palestinian people," it said.

At the gates of two of the East Jerusalem hospitals affected, medical staff were aware of the decision but refused to comment.

The last round of US-brokered Palestinian-Israeli peace talks collapsed in 2014.

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