Trump threatens to cut aid to Palestinians for 'disrespecting' Pence

Donald Trump meets Benjamin Netanyahu in Davos. ‘Israel has always supported the United States so what I did with Jerusalem was my honour,’ said Trump.
Donald Trump meets Benjamin Netanyahu in Davos. ‘Israel has always supported the United States so what I did with Jerusalem was my honour,’ said Trump. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump threatened to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority on Thursday, saying that Palestinians had “disrespected” Vice-President Mike Pence on his visit to the region.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, Trump told reporters: “Respect has to be shown to the US or we’re just not going any further.”

After Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, close allies in Europe and the Middle East denounced the decision as a provocation to unrest and a major setback to peace talks.

Not long afterward, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, declined to meet with Pence on a recent visit to Israel.

Earlier this month, Abbas called recognition of Jerusalem “the slap of the century”, and said that Palestinians could no longer trust the US as an honest broker in the talks.

The two main Palestinian parties – the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamist militant group Hamas – have run separate governments in the West Bank and Gaza respectively since 2007.

The situation emerged after Hamas defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections in 2006. Fatah refused to recognise the result, leading to a near-civil war that saw Hamas push Fatah out of Gaza.

Numerous attempts at reconciliation have ensued but the latest effort looks the most serious yet. The issue of who controls the borders and runs government ministries is a key test, not least in loosening the Israeli blockade on Gaza, imposed after Hamas took control.

Responsibility for land border crossings – in a coastal strip without a commercial sea port or airport – is crucial, as Palestinians and goods can only cross by these checkpoints. Both Egypt and Israel will want to ensure that no arms reach Hamas and other groups.

“We will not accept for the US to be a mediator, because after what they have done to us,” he said.

On Thursday, sitting next to Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump alluded to the snub of Pence. “They disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice-president to see them.”

He added that the US may withhold “hundreds of millions” in aid money for Palestinians if they did not return to peace talks. “That money is on the table and that money’s not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace,” he said.

The Trump administration has already moved to freeze some $60m for Palestinian refugees, to release on condition of a United Nations “re-examination” of programs. Trump has charged his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, with leading peace talks, yet on Thursday he said the subject of aid funding was new: “This was never brought up by other negotiators but it’s brought up by me.”

He added: “That money is on the table because why should we do that, as a country, if they’re doing nothing for us?”

The White House has argued that it has taken the debate over Israel’s capital “off the table” for negotiations, but on Thursday Trump insisted “Israel will pay for that” concession.

He also defended his controversial decision, saying: “Israel has always supported the United States so what I did with Jerusalem was my honour.”

A spokesman for Abbas said the Palestinians would not meet with the US administration until it withdrew its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“If the American administration will not go back on their decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it will remain outside the [negotiation] table,” Nabil Abu Rudeina said.

Another senior Palestinian official, Hanan Ashrawi, told AFP that “not meeting your oppressor is not a sign of disrespect, it is a sign of self-respect”.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, responded to Abbas’ speech in a Thursday meeting of the UN security council. “A speech that indulges in outrageous and discredited conspiracy theories is not the speech of a person with the courage and the will to seek peace,” she said.

The Trump administration, she added, would not “chase after a Palestinian leadership that lacks what is needed to achieve peace”.