Monday 9 December 2019

Donald Trump threatens to withhold aid money from Palestinians

The president’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has angered Arab nations but been welcomed by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Benjamin Netanyahu watches Donald Trump speak in Davos (Evan Vucci/AP)
Benjamin Netanyahu watches Donald Trump speak in Davos (Evan Vucci/AP)

By Catherine Lucey

President Donald Trump has threatened to withhold aid money from the Palestinians until they return to peace talks with Israel as he sat down with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of an economic summit in Switzerland.

Mr Trump’s decision last year to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital angered Arab nations and led the Palestinians to refuse to meet with Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to the Mideast this week. They also declared a new US-led peace push dead, saying Washington can no longer be trusted as an honest broker.

Mr Trump said that decision has consequences. The US, he said, gives “hundreds of millions of dollars” to the Palestinians, and “that money is on the table and that money’s not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace”.

A Palestinian official called Mr Trump’s “language of dictation unacceptable.” Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians are “ready to engage in negotiations” and committed to a peace process “based on a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as capital”.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump shake hands in Davos (Evan Vucci/AP)

Mr Trump’s comment came shortly after he arrived at the World Economic Forum, which brings together world leaders, business executives and celebrities.

His appearance is aimed at luring foreign investment to the U.S. and highlighting his America First economic agenda, despite its seeming odds with a gathering that celebrates global cooperation and free trade.

It was not immediately clear what money Mr Trump was referring to in his threat. Washington has contributed over five billion US dollars in economic and security aid to the Palestinians since the mid-1990s.

Annual economic aid since 2008 has averaged around 400 million US dollars, much of it devoted to development projects.

Last week, the Trump administration moved to withhold some, but not all, of a scheduled aid payment to the United Nations agency that assists Palestinian refugees.

The Trump administration said it would provide 60 million US dollars, while keeping 65 million US dollars until the UN body undertakes a “fundamental re-examination”.

Israel has been overjoyed by Mr Trump’s pivot on Jerusalem, which Mr Netanyahu hailed Thursday as an “historic decision that will be forever etched in the hearts of our people”.

During his visit to Israel this week, Mr Pence told Israeli politicians that the U.S. was fast-tracking the embassy plans, aiming to move it from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019.

Mr Trump said he anticipates having “a small version” of the embassy open sometime next year.

In his remarks, Mr Trump referenced Pence’s trip to the Middle East, which did not include a meeting with Palestinian leaders.

Mr Trump said, “they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice president to see them”, adding: “Respect has to be shown to the US or we’re just not going any further.”

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