WASHINGTON - The Trump administration announced on Friday that it has decided to cut $200 million from the aid budget to the Palestinians that was approved by Congress earlier this year.
Most of this money was supposed to support humanitarian and economic projects in the West Bank and Gaza, and was not meant to go directly to the Palestinian Authority. The aid cut is expected to cause a deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
After the announcement a U.S. State Department official said, "this decision takes into account the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance in Gaza, where Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza’s citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation."
Congress originally approved $250 million for Palestinian aid for the current fiscal year. Out of that entire budget, the Trump administration has so far released tens of millions of dollars that went to support the Palestinian Authority's security forces. The rest of the money was being held as part of an internal administration "review" of aid to the Palestinians. Following the decision announced on Friday, it will be transferred to other places, which have not yet been specified.
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The decision comes just days after President Trump said that the Palestinians will "get something very good" as part of the peace process, in return for his decision to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Trump said that it is now the Palestinians' "turn to get something." The aid cut, however, is expected to further hurt the Trump administration's relationship with the Palestinian Authority.
The two sides have had no communications ever since last December, when Trump announced the embassy move.
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's Executive Committe, responded angrily to the news of the administration's decision to cut the funds. "The U.S. administration is demonstrating the use of cheap blackmail as a political tool," he blasted.
"There is no glory in constantly bullying and punishing a people under occupation," Dr. Ashrwai continued. "The U.S. is exercising economic meanness by punishing the Palestinian victims of the occupation," he stated.
Noa Landau contributed to this report.