Warnings from the Trump administration of a cut-off in American financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority serve notice on Palestinian leaders that Washington expects a fundamental shift in their approach to peace talks with Israel, experts and policy analysts said on Wednesday.
In an early morning tweet on Wednesday, Trump declared that the US gives Palestinians "HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and gets no appreciation or respect. They don't even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel ... with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?"
Trump's tweet followed earlier comments by his ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, who told a press conference in New York that the US 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," when asked about future US funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
"I think what the president and Ambassador Haley are really saying is that the billions in American aid are a gift, not a right," Elliott Abrams — who served as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration – told The Algemeiner.
"Palestinians ought to think about their words and conduct if they expect the gift to continue," Abrams said.
A leading American critic of UNRWA's role in perpetuating the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel said the Trump administration's tougher approach reflected a sense of duty to the American taxpayer.
"The US has been a long time provider of aid to the Palestinian Authority, and in particular to UNRWA, with hardly any accountability or transparency of these monies," Asaf Romirowsky — a fellow at the Middle East Forum and the author of a book on Palestinian refugee funding — told The Algemeiner.
"UNRWA has worked toward ensuring the conflict will never end through the perpetuation of refugee status for the Palestinians," Romirowsky said.
Unlike other refugee populations, UNRWA enables Palestinians to transfer refugee status to their descendants — a population that has grown to nearly 6 million dependents. Critics argue that gives ordinary Palestinians no incentive to abandon the historical conflict with Israel.
"Holding the PA accountable is not only needed, but also a requirement for US taxpayers who have been funding this enterprise," Romirowsky said.
The US is the PA's largest international donor, providing over $700 million in indirect aid to the PA and to UNRWA in 2016. Trump's warning of an aid cut on Wednesday comes on top of the passage last month by the US House of Representatives of the Taylor Force Act, which similarly confronts the PA with the prospect of an end to US aid as long as it pays generous monthly salaries and other benefits to the families of slain or convicted Palestinian terrorists.
Palestinians condemned Trump's comments unreservedly. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO's executive committee, said in response: "We will not be blackmailed." Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, remarked that "Jerusalem is not for sale, neither for gold nor for silver."
Trump drew praise from a cabinet minister in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, but also warning from an ex-Israeli peace negotiator of the dangers in cutting off financial assistance to the Palestinians.
Culture Minister Miri Regev, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party, welcomed Trump's aid comments, saying on Army Radio: "I am very satisfied (Trump) is saying the time has come to stop saying flattering words (to the Palestinians)."
But opposition politician Tzipi Livni, an ex-peace negotiator, said "a responsible and serious (Israeli) government" should quietly tell Trump that it would be in Israel's interest to prevent a "humanitarian crisis in Gaza" and to continue to fund Palestinian security forces cooperating with Israel.
Israel's deputy minister for diplomacy, Michael Oren, praised Haley on Twitter for making clear that there would be material consequences to continued Palestinian intransigence.