After Trump Threat, White House 'Reviewing' U.S. Assistance to Palestinians

A senior administration official told Haaretz review comes 'in light of recent conduct' by Palestinians

President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Republican Senators on immigration in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, in Washington.
Andrew Harnik/AP

WASHINGTON - Following President Donald Trump's tweets earlier this week in which he expressed doubt over the usefulness of American aid to the Palestinians, the White House is now actively looking at cutting that aid, and is expected to hold a discussion on the matter on Friday.

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A senior administration official told Haaretz on Thursday: "We are reviewing our assistance to the Palestinians in light of their recent conduct, per the president's recent message."

>> In One Tweet, Trump Manages to Confuse Palestinians and Israelis Alike | Analysis ■ Trump's Threat to Defund UNRWA Could Cost Israel as Much as the Palestinians | Analysis <<

Two sources with knowledge of the administration's internal discussion told Haaretz that American support for UNRWA, the United Nations agency in charge of aiding Palestinian refugees and their descendants in the Middle East, is at the center of the debate. The organization's spokesperson, however, said that as of Thursday night, they were still not informed of any specific cuts by the U.S. administration to their budget. The spokesperson added that UNRWA officials are in communication with American diplomats on this subject. 

President Trump tweeted on Tuesday "It's not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing, but also many other countries, and others. As an example, we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. 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?"

His comments came on the same day that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said in reply to a question about America's funding of UNRWA that President Trump wants to stop that funding until the Palestinians return to peace talks with Israel under American mediation. The United States is the largest single donor to UNRWA, providing approximately a fourth of the organization's budget. 

>> Explained: What Is the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees, and Will Trump Really Defund It? ■ Trump Withdrawing American Aid to Palestinians Will Fuel More Violence Against Israelis | Opinion ■ FACT CHECK: How Much Funding Does the U.S. Give Palestinians - and What Would Happen if Trump Cuts It <<

"He doesn't want to give any additional funding until the Palestinians agree to come back to the negotiation table, and what we saw with the resolution was not helpful to the situation," Haley said. "We're trying to move for a peace process, but if that doesn't happen, the president is not going to continue to fund that situation."

It was not immediately clear from Haley's comments if she was referring only to UNRWA's funding, or to general U.S. funding related to the Palestinian Authority.

Trump's tweet implied that he intended to extract possible future concessions from Israel for his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and that in light of the subsequent Palestinian decision to stop all engagements with the Trump administration, he plans to significantly decrease American funding to the Palestinian Authority. 

In response to the Trump's tweets, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the PLO Executive Committee, said that Trump had "not only violated international law," but had "singlehandedly destroyed the very foundations of peace."

Ashwari accused Trump of sabotaging the Palestinians' "search for peace, freedom and justice," charging that the U.S president was now blaming the Palestinians "for the consequences of his own irresponsible actions!"