NEWS DESK: Palestinian authorities have reacted with outrage and accused Donald Trump of “blackmail” after the US suggested it would temporarily stop funding humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees, reported The Independent with additional input from agencies.
In a tweet, Mr Trump accused the Palestinians of being “no longer willing to talk peace”. The Palestinians previously said they rejected any US role as a mediator in the Middle East in protest over Mr Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The Palestinian President’s office rebuffed Mr Trump’s remarks, saying: “Jerusalem is not for sale, neither for gold nor silver.”
Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said “if the United States is keen on its interests in the Middle East, it must implement the international resolutions which call for a state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
“Without this, the United States will push the region to the abyss,” Mr Abu Rdeneh added.
Mr Trump’s tweets were presaged by comments from the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, who was asked about future US funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees.
“The President has basically said he doesn’t want to give any additional funding, or stop funding, until the Palestinians agree to come back to the negotiation table,” Ms Haley said.
She added: “We still very much want to have a peace process. Nothing changes with that. The Palestinians now have to show they want to come to the table.
“As of now, they’re not coming to the table, but they ask for aid. We’re not giving the aid. We’re going to make sure that they come to the table.”
Chris Gunness, a spokesman for UNRWA, said it had not been informed of any changes to US funding at this time.
After Ms Haley’s comments, Mr Trump tweeted: “We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS 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.”
“We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table,” he added, in reference to his decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, said the Palestinians “will not be blackmailed” by the US President, adding that Mr Trump “single-handedly destroyed the very foundations of peace” by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month.
“Trump has sabotaged our search for peace, freedom and justice,” she said.
Culture minister Miri Regev, a senior member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, said she was “very pleased” by Mr Trump’s call to cut funding to the Palestinians.
She said the Trump administration’s call to cut aid to UNRWA was “correct and important”.
The United States is the largest donor to the agency, with a pledge of more than £270m as of 2016, according to UNRWA’s website.
The site says there are 5.9 million UNRWA refugees and other registered persons eligible for its services, which include education and health care, in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.