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Middle East

Palestinians slam Trump aid threat as 'blackmail'

media FILE PHOTO - U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an address from the White House in Washington, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Picture

Palestinian leaders have slammed US President Donald Trump's threats to cut funding to Palestinians as "cheap blackmail". Critics accuse the US leader of behaving like a bully, but some Israelis insist there should be more scrutiny in the way US aid is spent.

"Our rights are not for sale," Xavier Abu Eid, a special adviser to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) told RFI Wednesday, after US President Donald Trump threatened to cut annual aid of more than 300 million dollars (250 million euros) to force Palestinians to the negotiating table.

"This is cheap blackmail," Abu Eid insisted. "It's clear that the US has decided to disqualify itself from any political process."

That process was called into question on 6 December when Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Palestinians reacted strongly, saying the US could not be an honest broker in peace talks.

In Trump's latest salvo, he tweeted that, with "no appreciation or respect" for US aid, the Palestinians could go without.

"He is threatening to starve Palestinian children in refugee camps, to deny them a right to education and health, in order to play a blame game against Palestinians," adds Abu Eid.

Unclear what will be cut

Last year, the US pledged nearly 370 million dollars (308 million euros) to the UN's relief agency (UNRWA) to fund its aid programmes.

In a statement, UNWRA spokesman Chris Gunness told RFI the agency had "not been informed by the United States administration of any changes in US funding, and remain[s] grateful to them for their support".

Washington also gave the Palestinian Authority a further 319 million dollars (265 million euros) in 2016, according to US government figures. It is still unclear whether all of this budget will be cut.

Israel opposes PA

"Some Israelis don’t want to cut aid to UNWRA," says former Israeli diplomat Lenny Ben David.

Although he insists there should be more scrutiny on how US aid money is spent, he does acknowledge the agency "provides a service of schooling and medicine and food to the Palestinians" and that any cuts to its funding could provoke a humanitarian disaster.

The problem is not UNWRA but the Palestinian Authority, according to Ben David.

"They're already under threat of losing the money because of their funding to jailed terrorists or the families of what they call martyrs but whom we call suicide bombers," he explains.

The US Congress is currently debating a bill called the Taylor Force Act whereby money to the Palestinians would be cut because of their support to prisoners the Israelis accuse of being terrorists and their families.

So Trump's tweet, he argues, is in line with what Congress is moving to do anyway.

Gulf states's role questioned

"Donald Trump is behaving like a mediocre businessman and not like a statesman," reckons Ofer Bronchtein, president of the International Centre for Peace in the Middle East.

"You can't always get the right results by threatening your partners and your friends. It doesn't work this way," he told RFI.

On the sensitive topic of Palestinian refugees, he said he hoped Arab countries would "put their hands in their pockets and give to the Palestinians and refugees what the Americans are going to stop giving them".

And he singles out Saudi Arabia.

"They're the richest country in the region. Instead of buying for 500 billion dollars-worth of weapons from the Americans, they should put some of this money into helping Palestinian refugees in the Arab countries, mainly in the West Bank and the Gaza strip."

Future of two-state solution

"It's not only about funding," reckons Abu Eid. "Funding is for a political purpose, and the US has totally lost its political purpose under the current administration, which was to achieve a two-state solution."

A new bill voted by Israel's parliament on Tuesday now also makes it more difficult for the government to hand the Palestinians parts of Jerusalem under any future peace deal if it earmarks East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

"With or without a decision on withdrawing funding, the US is completely disqualified," he reiterates.

Trump's latest sally, the Palestinians' angry reaction and Israel's increasingly tough stance are all blows to the prospect of future peace talks in the Middle East.

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