Photo Credit: WhiteHouse.gov
US President Donald J. Trump at the White House

U.S. President Donald Trump told American Jewish leaders and rabbis on a conference call Thursday in advance of the Rosh Hashana holiday that aid to the Palestinian Authority will be suspended “until we make a deal.”

A recording of President Trump can be heard below, explaining his position during the conference call on the reasons for withholding aid from the Palestinian Authority as a way to pressure Ramallah into returning to peace. Credit: Channel 10 television news journalist Barak Ravid.

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The president was joined on the call by his son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, and Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and among the participants was Harvard Law Professor and world-renown legal authority Alan Dershowitz.

Trump maintained that it was not “disrespectful at all” to use American aid as a bargaining chip, and said, “I think it’s disrespectful when people don’t come to the table,” he added, according to a transcript of the call issued late Thursday evening by the White House Press Office.

The president made the comment in response to a question raised by Dershowitz, who asked whether the Jewish community should be “optimistic” about the chances that Trump could help bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

“I think the answer to that is a very strong ‘yes,’ “ the president replied. “I really do believe we are going to make a deal. I hope so. It would be a great thing to do.”

At the start of the call, Trump began by saying that he is a “very proud father of a Jewish daughter, Ivanka.” He concluded his opening statement by saying, “We renew our pledge to confront anti-Semitism and hatred in all of its forms.”

Entrance to US Embassy in Jerusalem

Ambassador Friedman also had good news for the new year: It seems the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem has become a major “tourist site” in the capital. “People come there almost every day,” Friedman said. “People just pull up their cars in front of the embassy, they get out, take pictures. I see some people praying there. I have actually seen many people crying there,” he said.

The ambassador reportedly added that by next year the new embassy plans to expand its compound and will double its current staff.

According to ‘U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians’ – a report submitted to Congress on May 18 this year by Congressional Research Service Middle Eastern Affairs Specialist Jim Zanotti, funding to the Palestinian Authority has dropped by nearly 50 percent over the past five years.

“Since FY2013, bilateral aid levels have steadily declined from their previous annual averages of $400 million (economic) and $100 million (security),” according to the report. “The Administrations FY2019 request is for $215 million (economic) and $35 million (security). Moreover, the Administration has not obligated any FY2017 – or FY2018-appropriated bilateral economic assistance for the Palestinians to date,” Zanotti wrote.

According to the U.S. government online tracker, ForeignAssistance.gov, to date the American government has given the Palestinian Authority $92.88 million. Of that, however, nearly half — around $42 million, was only unfrozen sometime after May; up until that point, the total disbursement to the Palestinian Authority and Gaza stood at $50.5 million.

The funds, incidentally, are allocated to the “West Bank and Gaza” according to the tracker, which means it’s not really possible to determine where the money’s going once it’s left Washington DC. However, the recently-passed Taylor Force Act has greatly reduced the ability of the Palestinian Authority to move money into terrorists’ hands, and has brutally slashed the chances of money being released without meticulous scrutiny to ensure it can’t be used to support murderous thugs or their families.

The figure up to this point includes $4.04 million for “peace and security” and $14.80 million for economic development, with the rest for health ($16.21 million), education and social services ($17.97 million), humanitarian assistance ($23.06 million), program management ($11.45 million) and democracy, human rights and governance ($5.35 million).

The above figures also did not include assistance to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which came from a separate stream.

U.S. contributions for FY2017 totaled $359.3 million, according to the report. However, the contribution for FY2018 was just $65 million, as the Administration withheld the remainder of an expected January 2018 tranche. In September 2018, the State Department announced there would be no more funds forthcoming and the United States was terminating – at least for the time being – its support for the agency.

The U.S. government has consistently been the leading provider of bilateral development and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, with more than $5.2 billion provided since 1994, through USAID, according to the website of the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem. USAID pays for programs on education, health, good governance, and democracy promotion, as well as disaster preparedness and security.

Bilateral assistance since 1994 has totaled more than $5 billion, and contributions to UNRWA since 1950 have totaled more than $6 billion,” the report points out.

As has happened in the past, President Trump may have been blunt, but he wasn’t wrong when he tweeted in January, “We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.”

It’s not difficult to find photos of Palestinian Authority demonstrators burning American flags or find social media posts in Arabic from PA territories cursing America or President Trump. A glance at the figures above tells the rest of the tale.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.
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