The United States government announced a US$200 million cut to its financial aid budget for Palestine Friday, which was approved by Congress earlier this year. The original Palestinian aid package for 2018 was US$250 million.
An official of the country's State Department explained the decision was made by president Donald Trump and pointed to Hamas as the main reason for cutting back aid to the millions of refugees who live under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.
"At the direction of the president, we will redirect more than $200 million in Economic Support Funds originally planned for programs in the West Bank and Gaza. Those funds will now address high-priority projects elsewhere," the official said.
According to the official the decision was made after a review of U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority, which concluded the funds were not being spent in accordance with U.S. national interests and did not provide value to the U.S. taxpayer.
Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian General Delegation to the U.S. lamented the decision. “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 wrote in a statement.
In May, the Trump administration moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to the occupied city of Jerusalem, recognizing it as the capital of the state of Israel, a move that cause international condemnation and a deterioration in U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority.
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The Trump administration also withheld US$65 million for the United Nations agency that provides humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees, Unrwa, arguing the agency helped perpetuate the refugee problem.
"The United States administration is demonstrating the use of cheap blackmail as a political tool," Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, of the Palestinian Liberation Organization responded to the news.
According to the journal Foreign Policy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opposed the proposed cuts. However, Trump’s Middle East adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner "pushed back, maintaining that ending the assistance outright could strengthen his negotiating hand when he introduces his long-awaited Middle East peace plan."
A Plan, the Palestinian Authority have already rejected after asserting the U.S. is no longer a trustworthy broker for peace.
Ashrawi also warned the U.S. that "the Palestinian people and leadership will not be intimidated and will not succumb to coercion."
The announcement is expected to deteriorate the situation for Palestinians further and comes at a moment of increased tension between Gazans and Israel. Since March at least 171 Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip have been killed by Israeli occupation forces, and over 10,000 have been wounded in the context of the ongoing Great March of Return.
Earlier this month the U.S. Senate approved a bill enshrining the US$38 billion military aid package to Israel into law. The move effectively keeps future presidents from withdrawing the aid package that spans for ten years negotiated in 2016, during the Obama administration.