NEW: Listen to Trump's criticiIng the Palestinians in his conference call with Jewish leaders tonight pic.twitter.com/8fP97SNhXp— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) September 6, 2018
President Donald Trump told American Jewish leaders that the United States would only resume aid to Palestinian refugees on one condition: if they reach a peace deal with Israel.
In a conference call ahead of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish new year, Trump referred to the hundreds of millions of dollars of slashed aid to the Palestinian Authority and the complete defunding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which assists more than 5 million registered Palestinian refugees.
“What I will tell you is I stopped massive amounts of money that we were paying to the Palestinians and the Palestinian leaders,” Trump said to the Jewish leaders. “The United States was paying them tremendous amounts of money. And I say, ‘You’ll get money, but we’re not paying until you make a deal. If you don’t make a deal, we’re not paying.’”
“I said to some of the past negotiators. ‘Did you ever do that before? Did you ever use the money angle?’ They said, ‘No, sir. We thought it would be disrespectful.’ I said, ‘I don’t think it’s disrespectful at all. I think it’s disrespectful when people don’t come to the table,’” the White House released transcript reads.
Last week, Trump officially announced they would pay no more to the United Nations agency after months of whittling down the total pledged amount. The U.S. has historically provided around 30 percent of the total budget for UNRWA, which offers food, health care, education and social services to refugees in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The Trump administration paid only $60 million in January, even though it first pledged to pay $125 million. In fact, the actual amount donated in January 2017 by the U.S. — before Trump came into power — was $364 million.
However, last week, the State Department announced “[T]he United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA.”
During the call, Trump also implied he has actually advanced the peace process by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the U.S. Embassy to the holy city. He argued the biggest obstacle to the peace talk was Jerusalem (which, it certainly is) and that by “removing it off the table” — essentially by paying zero regard to the sentiments of Palestinians who also lay claim to the city and unilaterally bequeathing it to Israel, as if it were a piece of Trump property — he has cleared the path for further negotiation between Israel and Palestine (which couldn’t be further from the truth.)
“The fact is that I took something off the table,” said Trump. “If you go back and look at your negotiations with the Palestinians over the years, the first thing was Jerusalem and moving the embassy to Jerusalem, thereby making it the capital. And I will tell you, we’ve taken that off the table.”
“We took the biggest bone of contention, a point that nobody ever got beyond for the second dilemma — for the second problem — they never got beyond it. We took it off the table. And I think it’s actually going to help a lot in making a deal, as we say, with the Palestinians,” he said, answering a question by American academic Alan Dershowitz.
Trump, who seems to have absolutely no knowledge of diplomacy and foreign relations, should know that it was the rattling announcement of the embassy’s move that worsened whatever ties the Palestine Authority had with Israel and made them lose all trust in the United States. If Trump’s idea of a solution is backing Palestinians in a corner without a choice and strong-arming them, then that only exacerbates the problem.
Predictably, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cut off communication with Trump’s Middle East team, including the Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt and Trump’s son-in-law and senior aide, Jared Kushner — who has yet to prove what role he has to play in the Middle East crisis. Abbas also recalled his Ambassador to the U.S. Husam Zomlot back to Ramallah, where he has since remained.
Zomlot claims Trump’s assertion that the halted Palestinian aid could be used as a leverage to form a peace deal couldn’t be more wrong.
“By weaponizing the U.S. humanitarian and financial aid to Palestine to bully Palestinians to the negotiating table, Trump has undermined U.S. leadership beyond repair…Trying to twist our arm vis-a-vis money is not only amoral, it doesn't work with us,” he said in an interview with CBS News. “No one will sit with them if Jerusalem is not squarely on the table. No one.”
There are reports that Trump is planning to roll out the Middle East peace plan in two weeks during the U.N. General Assembly. However, Zomlot said, “President Trump and his team have lost our trust completely." He argued the U.S. has "totally co-opted the current Israeli government point of view. Totally. Completely. So what peace plan is he talking about?”
The Palestinian Authority is also reluctant to re-engage in further peace talks, Zomlot said.
“We don't want steps forward. Whatever they announce now is going to receive a deaf ear given the level of the poison they have inserted in the body of the already dying peace process. The only thing they can do is step backwards, to revert and adopt the long-held historic U.S. position.”
Banner/Thumbnail Credits: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman