After Trump Cuts, Israeli-Palestinian Peace Groups Scramble to Continue Coexistence Projects

Decision to cut $10m from coexistence groups was meant to pressure Palestinian leaders, but 'punishes regular Palestinians and Israelis who try to promote peace,' activists say

Israeli Jews and Arab citizens meet at the Sea of Galilee in 2016.
Menahem Kahana/AFP

WASHINGTON - Organizations that promote dialogue and meetings between Israelis and Palestinians have canceled future events as a result of the Trump administration’s decision to cut U.S. funding that supported them.

The administration’s decision was announced two weeks ago, and groups affected by it have been scrambling to find alternative sources of funding for their activities.

The U.S. was set to invest $10 million this year in support for groups promoting peaceful contacts between Israeli and Palestinian civilians. All are independent NGOs, with no direct connection to the Palestinian Authority. 

The funds were approved by a bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress.

One such group, the Palestinian Peace Coalition, was even a victim of political persecution by Palestinian President Abbas in 2015, and was saved thanks to support from the European Union.

Yet the Trump administration has decided to redirect the $10 million away from these groups, claiming the decision is meant to punish the Palestinian Authority for rejecting the administration’s secret Middle East peace plan.

“We were planning to bring more than 1,000 Israelis and Palestinians, mainly students, for joint meetings in the next few months,” said Nidal Foqaha, who leads the Palestinian Peace Coalition.

He told Haaretz that his organization’s program was vetted by the U.S. government and chosen for a grant, and was also examined by Israeli authorities, who gave their approval for participants from the West Bank to enter Israel for the meetings.

“This project was meant to bring together young people who usually never meet people from the other side, and to talk together about how to educate ourselves about the conflict, how to deal with it, how to build a better future,” Foqaha told Haaretz.

“It had been running successfully since last year, and we agreed to do two more years of it.” He said that plan is now in jeopardy, as the American support the organization was counting on has been rescinded.

Foqaha said “we had young Israelis and Palestinians who were waiting for these meetings, and now the meetings might not take place. It’s a sad situation.” He emphasized that his organization will continue to look for ways to encourage ties between Israelis and Palestinians, but that “this decision is counter productive. It sends a negative message.”

A second official at an NGO that promotes coexistence, and asked not to be identified, told Haaretz “this decision doesn’t punish President Abbas or the PA leadership. It punishes regular Palestinians and Israelis who try to promote peace.

"For many Palestinians, meetings organized through NGOs are the only opportunity to meet Israelis who aren’t soldiers with guns, or settlers who look down on them. This has a considerable impact on people’s views about Israel.”

The same official said the Trump administration’s decision last month to cut U.S. support for hospitals in East Jerusalem that treat Palestinian cancer patients, “has made every Palestinian see Trump as an enemy. If Trump wanted to make Palestinians angry at Abu Mazen, he failed. I don’t like Abu Mazen but I will never support American criticism of him after the Americans hurt people with cancer.”

Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official who advised Republican and Democratic administrations on Israeli-Palestinian policy, and an ex president of coexistence group “Seeds of Peace” wrote on Twitter the cuts are “cruel and counterproductive. It’s precisely because there is no peace process that you need these people-to-people programs.”

Trump’s special envoy for the peace process, Jason Greenblatt, wrote on Twitter that he supports activities such as bringing together Israeli and Palestinian teenagers, but that these activities will be hurt because of the PA’s refusal to engage with the administration.

“I continue to believe in the importance of building relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, particularly kids. But...both Palestinian and Israeli kids will lose, and these programs will be meaningless, if the PA continues to condemn a plan they haven’t seen & refuses to engage on it. Hopefully the PA will lead... let’s see,” he tweeted.