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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Palestinians say Trump is using 'cheap blackmail' with new cuts

Washington says $200m funding will be diverted to 'high-priority projects elsewhere'

A Palestinian refugee couple warm themselves by a fire near their house during a cold weather in Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. EPA
A Palestinian refugee couple warm themselves by a fire near their house during a cold weather in Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. EPA

The United States is attempting “cheap blackmail” against the Palestinians with another spate of cuts – $200 million – in aid for the West Bank and Gaza Strip announced on Friday.

The US State Department said the decision was taken “at the direction of the president” after a review of Washington’s aid to Palestine.

It said the funding will now be re-channelled to “high-priority projects elsewhere”. The move to cut funds for the Palestinians is the second by the Trump administration this year.

In January, the US made drastic cuts to its contribution to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA that forced the body to cut hundreds of jobs and contracts for Palestinian workers.

Hanan Ashrawi, senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official, condemned the move and said it was aimed at making the Palestinians abandon their claim to Jerusalem in favour of Israel, which says the contested city is its united capital.

“The US administration is demonstrating the use of cheap blackmail as a political tool. The Palestinian people and leadership will not be intimidated and will not succumb to coercion. The rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale,” she told The National.

“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,” she continued. “Now it is exercising economic meanness by punishing the Palestinian victims of this occupation.”

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Relations between Washington and the Palestinians have fallen to their lowest ebb in decades after US President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move roundly condemned by the majority of the international community.

Since coming into office, Mr Trump has failed to condemn Israel’s continued settlement building in the West Bank and the construction of its first settlement for two decades there, while appearing to support its claim to Jerusalem, the home of the some of the holiest sites for Muslims.

The Palestinians have since refused to hold talks with any Trump administration official and have publicly stated that they no longer consider the US a fair mediator in the decades-long conflict.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy has accused the White House of engaging in a "series of provocative and harmful acts" instead of coming up with a coherent policy to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr Trump and his Middle East advisers, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, have been working on a long-awaited peace plan that they believe will solve the protracted conflict.

But Palestinian officials have made it clear they are not interested in any deal led by Washington, viewing the administration to be too in favour of Israel. Mr Trump last week promised there would be something "very good" for the Palestinians in any deal. His remarks were immediately rejected in Ramallah.

Senior Palestinian official Ahmad Al Tamimi said the US president's assertion that he had removed Jerusalem from future negotiations was "a continuation of the US policies in favour of Israel".

Speaking to official Palestinian news agency Wafa, he added that Mr Trump's push for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal was impossible without "recognising east Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state".

Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of any future state so the American decision to effectively recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has only served to alienate one side of the conflict.

In an initial reaction on Friday, the PLO's representative in Washington, Husam Zomlot, said the US administration was "dismantling decades of US vision and engagement in Palestine".

"After Jerusalem and UNRWA, this is another confirmation of abandoning the two-state solution and fully embracing [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's anti-peace agenda," he said.

The cuts have only poured fuel on the fire. The decision to slash funding to the Gaza Strip comes at a time when the enclave is facing an ever-increasing humanitarian crisis because of Israel’s siege that has been in place since 2007.

The UN has said that the territory will be “unlivable” by 2020. In protests against the siege from March onwards, Israeli soldiers have killed at least 170 Palestinians, many whom were unarmed, in the territory’s border area with Israel.

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