U.S.’s reputation as a neutral broker over, after millions $ of Palestine aid frozen

By Middle East Affairs

The U.S’s much anticipated but highly delayed Middle East peace plan is rumored to be gashing millions of dollars in funding for humanitarian and development projects in the West Bank and Gaza.

According to five U.S. officials and one congressional aide, the plan is due to be announced in mid to late June, after the holy month of Ramadan is over, but cautioned that further developments into the region could affect the release of the plan.

The plan’s main creators President Donald Trump’s son-in-law who is his senior adviser Jared Kushner and Trump’s special international advisor Jason Greenblatt have already begun briefings to select allies.

Palestinians’ angry over President Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S embassy to the holy city of Jerusalem is unlikely to fade, and with the plan’s favoritism towards Israel, it is doubtful that Palestinians would be willing to consider it.

Even U.S’s allies in Europe and the Arabian Gulf have criticized President Trump for his approach. Even with their support, the plan’s chance to gain steam is in question.

The Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington has remained open at the protection of Kushner and Greenblatt who see it as a viable option if Palestine becomes open to once again entering negotiations with Israel on the Middle East peace plan. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was fired by President Trump, ordered the office closed last November, under a law that allows its closure under an absence of peace talks, which President Trump’s administration has managed to circumvent.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas who protested the U.S embassy’s new location in Jeresusulam is another reason that Palestinian acceptance of the plan is implausible. The embassy’s opening contributed to mass widespread violence in Gaza that killed more than 62 Palestinians and injured nearly 3000 at the hands of Israeli soldiers defending the fence.

The Palestinian protester Fadi Abu Salah who lost his legs from Israeli force in a was killed in Gaza by an Israeli sniper during the Great Return marches. May 2018, (social media)

In the same week, the U.S. blocked a U.N. resolution backed by European and Islamic countries which sought an independent investigation into the use of live ammunition used by Israel. They have since spoken of a Palestinian Protection force, after Monday’s massacre which made headlines around the world and swayed public opinion for Palestinians plight for a land of their own.

President Trump’s acceptance of Jeresuslam as Israel’s capital and longstanding defense of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies have exasperated Palestine’s leaders and rejected the U.S’s stance as a neutral party in brokering a peace deal.

Saeb Erekat, the top Palestinian negotiator says that any deals need to be between Israel and Palestine, the U.S. should step back, “I don’t need Jason Greenblatt. I don’t need Kushner,” Erekat said. “It’s our lives.”

The disdain for U.S assistance will likely strength this summer after funds are cut for Palestine and reinstalled to others in the region. The money has been on hold since last year, and current funds are likely to soon run out if new funding isn’t approved in the next two weeks. If that happens the State Department and the US Agency for International Development will have to notify project heads that U.S funding is cut off and that their projects will need to seize their work. Local staff will be out of work and U.S. officials will be reassigned to other projects in the region.

According to the government’s online tracker, only $50.5 million has reportedly been spent from the allocated $251 million in U.S aid to Palestine. The rest remain in frozen funds, not including the $65 million that the U.S pledged to the UN Relief and Works Agency which serves Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, and Lebanon. The funds support programs on education, health, good governance and democracy promotion as well as disaster preparedness and security.

The State Department and USAID have communicated to the White House that at least some of those funds should be used, recommendations that have been ignored by President Trump’s administration over the last few months.

Three officials indicated that there is no sign that the recommendations will be headed even on the warnings of lawmakers and concern from Israel, which perceives merit in the funding, especially in the security sector. One official admitted there is “an overwhelming lack of urgency” about putting the funds to use. The other two said there was no sign that any decision would be made in the two weeks deadline.

USAID in a statement to The Associated Press said that “The administration is currently reviewing US assistance to the Palestinians. USAID is in discussions with all affected implementing partners on the status of the review, and is working closely with the interagency, as the administration concludes its review.”

The frozen funds and lack of renal for new ones put between five and ten of the 20 USAID projects in Gaza and the West Bank in immediate risk, along with proposed plans for new projects, according to the officials. If a decision is not soon reached the money is certain to run out by the end of 2018 for these programs and the rest of the USAID projects will be without funding in early 2019 if U.S. funds are not soon put to use.

Palestinian children carry water bottles near their house on the outskirts of the West Bank village of Yatta, south of Hebron, August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
A Palestinian man washes his face from a water tank near his house in the outskirts of a village in the West Bank. August 2016, Reuters
A Palestinian woman washes a pot from a tank outside her house on the outskirts of a West Bank village. August 2016, Reuters

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