President Donald Trump appeared to threaten millions of dollars in U.S. aid to the Palestinians in a series of tweets Tuesday after a decision to also withhold funds from Pakistan earlier in the day.
“It’s not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing,” the president wrote Tuesday afternoon. “We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.”
Trump continued to say that the Palestinians no longer wanted to negotiate a peace treaty with Israel and referenced his December announcement that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital ― one of the most controversial foreign policy decisions of his first year in office.
The U.S. had budgeted $251 million in aid for the Palestinian-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2018, according to government data.
On Dec. 5, Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and directed the State Department to move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.
With the move, the president fulfilled a campaign pledge popular among some evangelical Christians and right-leaning Jewish groups. He touted the change as a new approach after decades of failed peace efforts, saying it was meant to signal “the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
In the short-term, however, rather than resetting the negotiations, the decision sparked widespread anger among Palestinians and deeply disappointed some of the U.S.’ most loyal international partners.
Jerusalem is home to Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites. Israel has long proclaimed the city its “undivided” capital, while Palestinians had hoped its eastern neighborhoods would one day become the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
Trump’s decision to recognize the city in its entirety as Israeli set off weeks of protests in the West Bank and Gaza, some of them violent. As international leaders warned that the U.S. severely complicated the peace process, Palestinian leaders posited that the U.S. had lost its role as an honest broker in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Jerusalem is and always will be the capital of Palestine,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Muslim leaders just days after the move. “The United States has chosen to lose its qualification as a mediator …. We will no longer accept that it has a role in the political process from now.”
Trump’s threat to cut off aid to the Palestinians over their anger surrounding his Jerusalem decision was previewed by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, earlier Tuesday.
Haley explained that Trump was considering cutting funding to the United Nations’ Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). “The President has basically said he doesn’t want to give any additional funding, or stop funding, until the Palestinians agree to come back to the negotiation table,” Haley had told reporters.
The U.S. is UNRWA’s largest donor, followed by the European Union and Saudi Arabia, although the agency is chronically underfunded. UNRWA is one of the main organization providing the Palestinian territories with long-term support in education, infrastructure and primary health care.
Gaza and the West Bank suffer from flagging economies and high unemployment rates, partially due to what the United Nations has called an “imposed Palestinian economic dependence on Israel.” A significant drop in foreign aid, violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza and bureaucratic red tape in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority have also contributed to an economic slowdown, the World Bank said last year.
Trump’s outburst Tuesday echoes his other complaints concerning the amount of funding that the U.S. provides other nations and international organizations. In the past, the U.S. president has threatened to cut aid to countries that disagree with his policies and railed against allies for not contributing enough money to multilateral organizations like NATO.
Such disapproval played out at the U.N. on Tuesday after Haley said America would withhold $255 million in aid from Pakistan, saying the country had “played a double game for years” and failed to support the American effort to fight terrorism.
“They work with us at times, and they also harbor the terrorists that attack our troops in Afghanistan,” Haley told reporters at the U.N. on Tuesday. “That game is not acceptable to this administration. We expect far more cooperation from Pakistan in the fight against terrorism.”
Nick Robins-Early contributed reporting to this story.