President Trump has decided to freeze $65 million in aid to a United Nations agency that provides support to the Palestinian people, the State Department confirmed Tuesday.
“It’s not being cancelled, it’s just being held for future consideration,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Tuesday.
The Trump administration informed the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that the U.S. government will still give $60 million in aid, the first installment in a funding pattern that totaled $355 million in 2017. That decision comes after Trump suggested that the United States would cut aid in response to the lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Nauert maintained that the move was financial and reform-oriented, however.
“We would like some reforms be made,” she said. “I’m not going to get into the specifics of that today, but we’re taking a look at the organization, we’re monitoring it, and we would like to see some reforms be made.”
Trump has floated the possibility of such cuts in recent weeks. “[W]ith the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” Trump tweeted on Jan. 2.
Abbas replied angrily on Sunday. “Damn your money!” he said. “[Trump] said, ‘I will give you a peace deal.’ The deal turned out to be a mess. He said, ‘We will not pay for the Palestinians because they stopped the negotiations.’ Where are the negotiations?”
Nauert denied that the funding cut was a punishment for the state of the peace talks or Abbas' speech. "This is not aimed at punishing anyone," she said. "The United States government and the Trump administration believe that their should be more so-called burden sharing to go around. The United States has been in the past the largest single donor to UNRWA. We would like other countries — in fact, other countries that criticized the United States for what they believe to be our position vis a vis the Palestinians — other countries that have criticized the United States to step forward and actually help with UNRWA."
Trump’s team hoped to spark a new round of peace talks shortly after he took office. After months without substantial progress, the president decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December. U.S. officials emphasized this announcement did not preclude the possibility of a final peace deal that established a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem.
“We’re very committed to a peace process still,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said following the decision. “It’s what I know the whole world wants and we still believe there is an opportunity for peace.”
Palestinian leaders rejected such sentiments. “We will not accept for the U.S. to be a mediator, because after what they have done to us — a believer shall not be stung twice in the same place,” Abbas said.
The funding cut comes as congressional Republicans and Democrats are threatening moving to revoke all Palestinian funding, citing the Palestinian Authority’s payments to the families of terrorists who carry out attacks in Israel.
“[The PA] actually has a schedule of what you do, and how you do it, and the level of success, that is then commensurate with the level of payment to you and/or your family," Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in February. "It's an outrageous concept to be in law anywhere; it's an even more outrageous thing to be in law of an authority that we give money to.”