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Trump threatens aid to Palestinians, appears to contradict himself on Jerusalem

Trump threatens aid to Palestinians
Posted at 3:40 AM, Jan 03, 2018

President Donald Trump raised the prospect Tuesday of cutting off aid to the Palestinian territories unless Palestinian leaders agree to resume negotiations to broker a peace deal with Israel.

He also appeared to contradict his previous statement that the US recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital would not impact the final status of Jerusalem in peace negotiations, claiming instead that "we have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table."

"We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don't even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel," Trump tweeted. "We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?"

A White House spokesman declined to comment about the apparent contradiction.

Trump's tweets late Tuesday afternoon came nearly a month after he became the first sitting US President to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, drawing Palestinians into the streets in protest.

A central committee member of the powerful Palestine Liberation Organization, Hanan Ashrawi, responded to Trump's threat to cut aid by saying that "Palestinian rights are not for sale."

"We will not be blackmailed," Ashrawi said in a statement sent Wednesday morning.

"By recognizing Occupied Jerusalem as Israel's capital Donald Trump has not only violated international law, but he has also singlehandedly destroyed the very foundations of peace and condoned Israel's illegal annexation of the city."

Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital caused Palestinian leaders to reject the US' decades-old role as the central negotiator in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas earlier claimed that Trump's recognition of Jerusalem, which both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital, discredited the US as an honest broker in the peace process.

And while Trump administration officials told CNN last month that the Jerusalem decision did not mean tougher concessions for Israelis down the line, Trump wrote in his tweet that "Israel, for that, would have had to pay more."

While Trump administration officials have said they expected a "cooling off period" with the Palestinians, Trump's tweets Tuesday signaled the President has grown frustrated with Palestinians' refusal to partake in a US-led peace process in the wake of his Jerusalem decision. The tweets also came after the White House confirmed that the US plans to withhold some of its aid to Pakistan to pressure the country into better counterterrorism cooperation with the US.

The US spent $616 million on aid to the Palestinian territories in 2016, according to the US Agency for International Development, which includes humanitarian assistance, private sector debt payments and infrastructure development assistance.

The President's tweets late Tuesday afternoon, though, did more than threaten US aid to Palestinians -- they also appeared to contradict his own statements about the impact of his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and may have undermined his administration's efforts to hammer home that message in the Middle East.

"We are not taking a position on any of the final status issues including the final boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem," Trump said last month as he made his Jerusalem announcement. "Those questions are up to the parties involved. The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides."

Trump's statement at the announcement was intended to reassure Palestinians and the broader Arab and Muslim world that the US was not giving away control of Jerusalem to Israel or forsaking Palestinian claims to the holy city.

And in the weeks after, Trump administration officials would urge those inflamed by Trump's decision to pay attention to his message about "not taking a position" on the future status of Jerusalem.