US aid cuts will only embolden Israel, say Palestinian analysts

Ramallah: US President Donald Trump’s swingeing cuts to aid for Palestinians will advance the Israel regime’s interests, but risk compromising a US-led peace push and raise tensions in the Middle East, analysts and diplomats said on Saturday.

The US administration announced Friday it would no longer provide any funding to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), a week after cutting over $200 million (Dh735 million) in separate aid to Palestinians.


Palestinian analysts say Washington’s move will lead to an increase in aid from other donor countries.

“The cuts in American aid to UNRWA amount to a superpower shirking from its humanitarian commitments on the global level,” Jihad Harb, a Palestinian analyst and columnist, told Gulf News. “I believe the European Union will increase its financial aid to UNRWA to cover the deficit.”

Harb added: “Solving the Palestinian question … can’t be done by one side. It will lead only to political instability in the region.”

The aid cuts were the latest in a series of controversial moves by the Trump administration that have thrilled the Israeli regime but caused shock and dismay among international powers and Palestinians, making their dream of an independent state more distant than ever.

The cuts come as the international community seeks to reach an agreement to deliver significant humanitarian aid to the poverty-stricken Gaza Strip, where most residents rely on external handouts.

The US has long been the largest single donor to UNRWA, providing more than $350 million a year.

A European diplomat said on Saturday that the US moves, taken in conjunction with an American pledge to veto any motions criticising Israel at the UN Security Council, were emboldening the regime in Tel Aviv, considered the most right-wing in the country’s history. Israel is increasingly convinced it has a free hand to accelerate colony growth and even advocate for annexing parts of the West Bank, the diplomat said.

“UNRWA schools were opened (on Sunday) and there are funds that is sufficient to cover the operational expenses just for the month of September,” Adnan Abu Hasnah, a Gaza-based media adviser to UNRWA, told Gulf News. A meeting, which is scheduled to take place in New York after three weeks, is expected to be crucial for the fate of the UN agency.

The US cuts mean Washington is providing very little aid to Palestinians, and another European diplomat said the move weakened Trump’s hand. “When you have no money left to threaten them with, you have reduced your leverage,” he said.

Hurting the people

Palestinian economist Nasser Abdel Kareem told AFP the cuts would hurt Palestinians but have little impact on the government. Unlike some European states, the US does not provide direct budgetary support to the Palestinian National Authority.

The only part of US funding that goes directly to the PNA — for security coordination with Israel — was not cut.

Nadia Hijab, president of the Palestinian think tank Al Shabaka, said returning to negotiations would be extremely unpopular among Palestinians. But she fears that with full US support, Israel will have free reign to increase colony growth. “If the PNA goes back and talks to the Americans it is giving them a green light to do whatever they want to do, and if they don’t go back, they are going to do what they want to do,” she said.

“At the moment it is a lose-lose situation.”

Hugh Lovatt, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, agreed. “If anything, the Palestinians will now double down on their current approach, which is to boycott the US administration and attack the yet-to-be unveiled US peace plan,” he said.

Hijab and many Palestinians do not believe the US is seeking to get the Palestinian leadership back to the table.

Instead, she said, they believe the US is trying to help Israel “end the conflict on its terms and legalise its occupation”.

That would mean stripping refugees across the region of their rights, specifically the idea they could one day return to historic Palestine.

— Agencies

(With inputs from Jumana Al Tamimi, Associate Editor, Gulf News)

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