Trump again threatens to cut off aid to Palestinians

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WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 11: U.S. President Donald Trump leads a prison reform roundtable in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, on January 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. State and local leaders joined Trump to discuss programs intended to help prisoners re-enter the workforce among other policy initiatives. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinians on Thursday if their leaders don’t agree to peace talks with Israel, a hardline negotiating tactic that will do little to rebut the notion he’s abandoned US neutrality in the long-simmering Middle East dispute.

Speaking ahead of talks with Israel’s prime minister on the sidelines of the economic summit in Davos, Trump said Palestinians had disrespected the United States by not agreeing to meet with Vice President Mike Pence during his trip to region last week.

And he declared Jerusalem “off the table” in negotiations after he declared the disputed city the capital of Israel last year.

“They’re going to have to want to make peace,” Trump said, “or we’re going to have nothing to do with them any longer.”

“We’ll see what happens with the peace process but respect has to be shown to the US or we’ll just not going any further,” he said.

The President’s comments amount to an escalation in tone toward the Palestinians, with whom he must work if he hopes to strike an elusive peace accord. Instead of drawing them to the negotiating table with offers, he has scaled up his threats of what will happen if they don’t agree to talks.

Last week, the administration announced it was drastically reducing its contributions to a United Nations fund that provides assistance to Palestinian refugees, saying the body would receive only $60 million of the expected $125 million in US contributions.

Analysts have said the fund — which provides emergency relief, health care and education for 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring countries — has helped quell further violence in the region.

Trump questioned on Thursday whether the money was a good investment for the US.

“We give them tremendous amounts, hundreds of millions of dollars, that money is on the table because why should we do that as a country if they’re doing nothing for us,” he said. “And what we want to do is help them, we want to create peace and save lives. And we’ll see what happens, we’ll see what happens. But the money is on the table.”

The deteriorating situation with the Palestinians began last month with Trump’s decision to name Jerusalem Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Originally, moving the embassy was expected to take years. But Trump said during his meeting in Switzerland that a small version of the embassy will open next year.

Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was condemned by 128 countries in a United Nations General Assembly vote in December, with nine countries supporting the decision and 35 abstaining, amid threats from the US to pull funding from the world body.

Previous US administrations have hewed to the international consensus that East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City and its key religious sites, would be the capital of any Palestinian state, subject to final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Trump said instead of forestalling peace talks, the Jerusalem decision in fact makes the situation easier as he claimed the issue is no longer a sticking point.

“I didn’t set it back, I helped it just by taking it off the table, that was the toughest issue,” he said. “And Israel will have to pay for that. Look, Israel something’s going to happen, they’ll do something that’s going to be a very good thing. But they want to make peace and I hope the Palestinians want to make peace, and if they do everybody’s going to be very happy in the end.”