On September 7, more than $20 million in U.S. foreign aid to East Jerusalem’s hospitals was cut. This network, which is comprised of six hospitals, is the primary provider of care for Palestinians in the occupied territories. Many Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip are referred to these hospitals for critical health services that are unavailable in their area.
In advance of ending aid to the East Jerusalem hospital network, on August 31, the United States pulled its funding from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Before that, on August 24, the Trump administration canceled over $200 million in humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These cuts come just months after the U.S. government decided to break with its prior position, as well as the international community, and both move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and officially recognize the city as Israel’s capital.
According to a U.S. State Department official, the withheld funds will be used for other high-priority projects, which include financing counterterrorism efforts in the Middle East and Asia; addressing threats from Syria, Iran, and North Korea; and helping South American countries manage migrants from Venezuela. It is clear, however, that in enacting these changes, Trump is using Palestinian lives as a bargaining chip to broker a “peace” deal with Israel. Financially choking ordinary Palestinians, the United States is trying to force their leadership to sit at the negotiation table with their oppressors to generate a deal that will benefit Israel only. As reported in France 24, on Thursday, September 6, Trump effectively told Palestinians that the United States is “not paying you until we make a deal.” The State Department said the decision to cut funding was made following a review of financial assistance and was meant to ensure aid was “being spent in accordance with U.S. national interests.”
Rather than achieving Trump’s goal, this move will do little more than exacerbate an already dangerous human rights situation and create more political turmoil. Indeed, Palestinians have already reacted angrily to the U.S. power play. As reported by Middle East Eye, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee Member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi called the cuts an act of “political blackmail.” On September 4, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated against U.S. cuts to UNRWA, with one protestor saying that “Trump wants to starve us,” and that a reduction in aid is “making it impossible for people to live.”
In response, donors such as the UK, Canada, and Japan have ramped up their financial support to Palestine and UNRWA, though it will not make up for the shortfall. To generate the financial and political support Palestine needs, the rest of the world must start standing up to the United States, which has long been anything but a trustworthy arbiter of peace in Israel/Palestine.