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Trump Threatens To Withhold Aid To Palestinians


The Trump administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital is still having ripple effects. Palestinians say the U.S. can no longer be a fair mediator between Palestinians and Israelis. And now President Trump is responding. On Twitter yesterday, he said the Palestinians don't give the U.S. any, quote, "appreciation or respect." And he questioned whether the U.S. should cut off aid payments.

To explain all of this we have NPR's Daniel Estrin on the line from Jerusalem now. Hey, Daniel.


CHANG: Good morning. So what prompted this tweet from President Trump, you think?

ESTRIN: President Trump is reacting to the Palestinian backlash against his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Palestinians say it's not fair. They also have claims in Jerusalem. And so they say they won't participate in any U.S.-led peace process. But the Palestinians rely on hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. And so Trump tweeted, with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?

CHANG: Well, yesterday, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, said Trump was considering freezing funds to a U.N. agency that funds Palestinian refugees. Would the president really stop that funding? How would Israelis feel about that?

ESTRIN: I'm skeptical about it. I think in many ways American aid is in American interest. It helps maintain stability in the Palestinian territories. The U.S. is, for instance, the biggest funder of the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees. And behind the scenes, the Israeli military is afraid that if that aid stops there would be a humanitarian disaster.

I spoke with former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro about all of this. He's now at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies. And he says whenever Congress in the past has held up aid to the Palestinians, the Israeli government has quietly advocated for getting Congress to eventually release those funds.

CHANG: So even Israelis are not exactly supporting cutting off funds. So what's also been the reaction from the Palestinian side to these president's threats to cut off funding?

ESTRIN: One Palestinian official called it blackmail. They're very angry at it. And actually, regarding Israel, Trump said something very interesting in his tweet. He said by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in return, the Israelis would have to pay more in peace negotiations with the Palestinians. And an Israeli Cabinet minister said Israel should be very wary about that statement. So looking forward I think the question now is, will Trump still try to push for what he has called the ultimate deal for peace between Israelis and Palestinians? And, you know, now can he get the Palestinians to work with him again?

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Thank you very much for joining us.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF PORTICO QUARTET'S "ENDLESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.