Trump Cuts More Than $200M in U.S. Aid to Palestinians

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -

The United States is cutting more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians, the State Department said on Friday, amid a deteriorating relationship with the Palestinian leadership.

“We have undertaken a review of U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority and in the West Bank and Gaza to ensure these funds are spent in accordance with U.S. national interests and provide value to the U.S. taxpayer,” a senior State Department official said in a statement.

“As a result of that review, 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.”

Asked where the money would be redirected and whether it would go to other Palestinian projects, another State Department official said: “We will work with Congress to redirect these funds to other policy priorities.”

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

The announcement came at a time when the Palestinian leadership has angered the White House by boycotting its peace efforts with President Donald Trump.

The State Department cited the Islamist terror group Hamas’ control of Gaza as part of its justification for reallocating the funds. The United States and Israel designate Hamas as a terrorist group.

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi accused the Trump administration of using “cheap blackmail as a political tool.”

“The Palestinian people and leadership will not be intimidated and will not succumb to coercion,” she said.

Ambassador Husam Zomlot, head of the PLO General Delegation to the United States, said in a statement: “Weaponizing humanitarian and developmental aid as political blackmail does not work.”

The United States had in January announced it would withhold $65 million of $125 million that it had planned to send to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from U.N. states, with the United states as the largest contributor.

U.S. National Security adviser John Bolton told Reuters this week that UNRWA was “a failed mechanism” that violated standard international law on the status of refugees.