President Donald Trump late last week ordered a review of American aid to the Palestinians and to the international bodies that sustain them. The President is apparently weighing a significant cut if the Palestinian leadership refuses to participate in serious peace talks with Israel, reports The Jerusalem Post.
The formal review process began after Trump earlier tweeted that Palestinians receive “hundreds of millions of dollars” in U.S. aid without offering Washington “appreciation or respect” in return.
“We are reviewing our assistance to the Palestinians in light of their recent conduct, per the president’s recent message,” a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post.
U.S. aid to the Palestinians falls roughly into three categories, according to a Times of Israel analysis: aid from USAID, the United States Agency for International Development; aid for “law and order in the Palestinian Authority;” and support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Cuts under consideration may include funds to UNRWA, which supports Palestinian refugees and their families.
The President’s tweets echoed remarks made hours earlier by Nikki R. Haley, ambassador to the United Nations.
As the largest donor to the relief agency, the United States provided more than $355 million in support for its 2016 operations, including $95 million for a West Bank and Gaza emergency appeal. Washington also provided about $290 million last year to the Palestinians through USAID and about $5.2 billion in total since 1994. U.S. contributions to UNRWA have decreased by as much as $28 million annually in recent years.
Both The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post report that the President’s tough talk has caused concern among some in Israel. They’re worried that a drastic reduction in American aid to the Palestinians could contribute to instability in the region and end up forcing the Israelis to shoulder more of the cost of peacekeeping in areas like the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is reported to be privately asking President Trump to refrain from carrying out the cut to UNRWA, according to a TV report cited in The Times of Israel. While he supports the President’s stance that Palestinians should bear consequences for refusing to come to the negotiating table, he also wants to avoid further destabilizing Gaza.
Peter Lerner, a recently retired Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman expressed his concern on Twitter, saying, “There are many problems with UNRWA, but cutting financial support to the organization hurts the weakest members of Palestinian society and is unlikely to bring the Palestinian Authority to the table.
“The refugee camps have historically been hotbeds for terrorist activities. Weakening this population will only lead to more extremism and violence,” he added.
But others welcomed the fact that Trump had clearly blamed the Palestinians for the stalled peace process and even praised the idea of reducing financial support.
“President Trump is not afraid to say the truth, even if it’s not popular,” said Naftali Bennett, the education minister and leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party. “The truth is the U.S. has no interest in funding those who act against its interest. The truth is the Palestinian leadership continues to fund terrorists, using U.S. tax money.”
In 2017, the Palestinian Authority paid terrorists nearly $350 million, according to a recent Jerusalem Post article.
Frustration or strategy?
Whether the President’s tweet is merely an expression of his frustration with the stalled Palestinian peace process or part of a calculated strategy to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table, I don’t know. The President has taken a completely different approach to the problems in the Middle East than his predecessors. Rather than continuing aid regardless of Palestinian behavior, this President is talking about accountability. Perhaps this threat is part of an overall plan.
Like so many who care about Israel and love the Jewish people, I believe Trump was right to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. And I certainly appreciate his stance against the use of American taxpayer dollars to fund terrorism. Why did it take so long to get to the point where we say, “Enough is enough?"
As we watch these developments unfold, I believe that part of our biblical mandate to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6) includes praying for God’s guidance in these crucial negotiations, and His hand of protection on peace-seeking people of goodwill throughout the region.
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