Withholding US Aid to Palestine
President Donald Trump sent out a tweet on January 2, essentially relaying that U.S. aid to Palestine should no longer be considered a given. The president particularly emphasized that the U.S. government pays out “hundred[s] of millions of dollars” to Palestine. He, additionally, suggested that the refusal of Palestinian leadership to actively engage in peace talks with Israel is an equitable justification for withholding U.S. aid. The President saw his threat through, giving $60 million and withholding $65 million for future consideration. While the U.S. Department of State has stated that the move “is not aimed at punishing anyone” as its official stance, Palestinian leaders and activists have taken the tweet at face value as a threat, and the tangible lessening of aid as evidence of Trump’s true intentions.
Hamas, the political party that leads in Gaza, the self-governing Palestinian territory, went so far as to call the move “cheap political blackmail.” One activist, Muhsin Abu Ramadan, expressed that the move illustrated that Trump doesn’t really want a political solution, interestingly emphasizing that Trump showed disregard for both Palestine and Israel. By this, Ramadan refers to the President’s apparent disregard for the consequences of his policies. Indeed, lessening the aid in such a significant capacity could ostensibly generate instability in Palestine, which could easily affect Israel. Aside from worsening tensions in the region, the cuts are capable of affecting aspects of Palestinian infrastructure, such as schools and medical centers, given that Palestine heavily relies on US aid.
Though the potential negative consequences of the cuts are problematic, the tactic itself is inherently flawed, for more than one reason. Firstly, by diminishing the aid to Palestine, the US arguably placed itself in an unfavorable light with some of its allies. As stated by Günter Meyer, director of the Center for Research on the Arab World, the current restrictions implemented against Palestine by Israel make it very challenging to “survive in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip without foreign aid.” As such, the most significant donor making a relatively quick shift in policy could foment turmoil for those who rely upon aid, and this could lead allies to distance themselves, or else publicly relay disapproval. Some nations have actually moved to publicly oppose the action: Sweden, the first EU nation to recognize Palestine as a state, particularly preempted the U.S. aid cut by officially stating that cuts would be “destabilizing.”
Quite differently from these predicted negative consequences, Palestinian leaders have, for the time being, rallied, demonstrating a second flaw in the tactic. While the Trump administration might have hoped to make Palestinian leaders more receptive to peace talks, it appears that leaders have, instead, become resourceful and resilient, attracting help from other sources.
Nations such as Belgium pledged 19M euros to counter the decrease in U.S. aid. The broader EU renewed its pledge to have East Jerusalem recognized as the capital of Palestine, in clear opposition to the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Given these facts, it is clear that the Israeli-Palestinian problem which the Trump administration sought to tackle will continue to be complex and challenging to solve. Indeed, hastily crafted policies that are not tailored to such a nuanced issue will assuredly continue to yield unexpected results.