Following a review of US assistance to the Palestinian Authority, President Donald Trump has directed the State Department to withdraw $200 million in aid that was originally planned for programs in the West Bank and Gaza, a senior State Department official said on Friday.
“At the direction of the President, we will redirect more than $200 million in FY2017 Economic Support Funds originally planned for programs in the West Bank and Gaza. Those funds will now address high-priority projects elsewhere,” according to the official.
The US gives support to help the Palestinian Authority provide law enforcement and maintain the rule of law – including funds for “programs implemented by the Middle East Partnership Initiative as well as educational and cultural programing through the US Consulate General in Jerusalem,” according to the consulate’s website.
“While funding levels change from year to year, the US Government will remain active in each of these fields,” the website says.
The decision announced Friday comes after Trump ordered a review of “US assistance to the Palestinian Authority and in the West Bank and Gaza to ensure these funds are spent in accordance with US national interests and provide value to the US taxpayer,” the senior State Department official said.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi condemned the decision.
“The US administration is demonstrating the use of cheap blackmail as a political tool. The Palestinian people and leadership will not be intimidated and will not succumb to coercion. The rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale,” she said in a statement to CNN.
“There is no glory in constantly bullying and punishing a people under occupation. The US administration has already demonstrated meanness of spirit in its collusion with the Israeli occupation and its theft of land and resources; now it is exercising economic meanness by punishing the Palestinian victims of this occupation,” Ashrawi added.
While in Jerusalem on Wednesday, US national security adviser John Bolton was asked about the timing of the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan promised by the US administration, Bolton said only that it was still being formulated and no decisions have been made about its release.
The US opened its new embassy in Jerusalem in May, moving it from Tel Aviv despite international criticism and fierce objections from the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority froze relations with the Trump administration last December when the embassy move was first announced, and said it no longer accepted the US playing the role of mediator in any peace process with Israel.
Bolton also took a swipe at the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday, suggesting there was little to choose between it and the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza. Responding to reports of a potential Gaza ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Bolton said, “if Hamas cared more about the people of the Gaza Strip than their political priorities, we wouldn’t have a lot of these (humanitarian) troubles. I think it’s a sad outcome for the Palestinian people that all they’ve got now is a choice between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.”
Recent reports have been indicating the Trump administration has made addressing the situation in Gaza a particular focus of its peace efforts. Friday’s decision to cut funding “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,” the senior State Department official said.
CNN’s Andrew Carey and Oren Liebermann contributed to this report.