Palestinians slam ‘blackmail’ after Trump threatens aid cut

Jerusalem ‘not for sale for gold or billions’

Palestinian artists paint a portrait of Ahed Tamimi, 16-year-old prominent campaigner against Israel’s occupation, and Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, who was shot dead in clashes between Israeli forces and protesters, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip yesterday. – AFP

RAMALLAH: Palestinian leaders said yesterday they will not be “blackmailed” after US President Donald Trump threatened to cut aid worth more than $300 million annually, his latest provocative move that could upturn years of careful diplomacy. Relations between Trump’s White House and the Palestinians were already tense after the US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month. The Dec 6 announcement concerning the disputed city led Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to say the United States could no longer play any role in the Middle East peace process.

Trump’s threat in a tweet on Tuesday to try to force the Palestinians into negotiations caused further outrage, though Israeli ministers lauded it. The Palestinians rely heavily on international aid, with many analysts, including Israelis, saying such assistance helps maintain stability in a volatile region. The European Union is also a major contributor.

“We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” Trump tweeted. “They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

It was not immediately clear whether Trump was threatening all of the budget, worth $319 million in 2016, according to US government figures. The United States has long provided the Palestinian Authority with much-needed budgetary support and security assistance, as well as an additional $304 million for UN programs in the West Bank and Gaza. UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said so far it had not been informed by the United States of any changes in financing. Israel receives more than $3 billion in military aid per year from Washington.

Abbas’ spokesman said they were not against negotiations, but that talks should be “based on international laws and resolutions that have recognized an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital”. “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the state of Palestine and it is not for sale for gold or billions,” Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP. Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement that “we will not be blackmailed”. “President Trump has sabotaged our search for peace, freedom and justice,” she said. “Now he dares to blame the Palestinians for the consequences of his own irresponsible actions!”

However, several Israeli ministers voiced support for Trump, with the country’s right-wing government having seized on the US president’s backing to push ahead with initiatives seen as dealing further blows to remaining hopes for a two-state solution. Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said “you cannot on the one hand receive $300 million in American aid per year and at the same time close the door on negotiations”.

Trump came to office boasting that he could achieve the “ultimate deal” that secures peace in the Middle East, something that has eluded presidents since the late 1960s. For most of the past half century the United States has been seen as the indispensable – if sometimes imperfect – arbiter of the peace process. Trump’s actions are likely to cast that further in doubt. He has heaped pressure on Palestinians to do a deal, threatening to close the de facto “embassy” in Washington in addition to recognizing Israel’s contested claim on Jerusalem and now threatening aid.

Efforts to harness improved Arab-Israel relations to push a peace deal have been at least temporarily derailed by Trump’s Jerusalem recognition, breaking with decades of US policy. The decision sparked almost universal diplomatic condemnation and deadly protests in the Palestinian territories. Yesterday, a 17-year-old Palestinian was shot dead in clashes with the Israeli army near Ramallah, according to the Palestinian health ministry. Fourteen Palestinians have been killed since Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, mainly in clashes with Israeli forces.

The declaration also prompted Abbas – 82 and facing the prospect of entering the history books as the leader who “lost Jerusalem” – to cancel a planned meeting with Vice President Mike Pence. Christian and Muslim leaders in Egypt took similar steps. Pence was forced to delay a December visit to the Middle East until later this month, and aides on Tuesday rejected rumors of further delays. “As we’ve said all along, the vice president is going to the Middle East in January,” said Pence spokeswoman Alyssa Farah. “We’re finalizing details and will announce specifics of the full trip in the coming days.” – AFP

This article was published on 03/01/2018