In a September 4, 2018 op-ed for Just Security, “Why Trump’s Aid Cuts to Syria, Gaza and West Bank Heighten Risk to U.S.,” POMED’s Deputy Director for Policy Andrew Miller and Advocacy Officer Seth Binder examine the Trump administration’s decision to cut $700 million in aid.
The Trump administration recently announced, in a cascade of shortsighted decisions, that it will cut at least $700 million in aid to Syria and to the West Bank and Gaza, some of which had been suspended earlier this year. The initial suspension had already caused damage, paralyzing U.S. programming for months, to the detriment of beleaguered Syrians and Palestinians. Permanently cutting U.S. assistance to these unstable territories will only compound the harm to U.S. interests by adding fuel to the fire of ongoing and potential conflicts, undermining the U.S. ability to shape developments, and ultimately weakening U.S. influence in the region.
Under the administration’s plans, bilateral U.S. assistance to the West Bank and Gaza will be cut by more than $200 million. The funds originally had been suspended in late January in response to the Palestinians’ refusal to participate in U.S.-mediated peace negotiations, after President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
According to U.S. government officials interviewed for the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)’s annual report on the president’s foreign affairs budget, over $400 million of non-security assistance in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 and 2018 and close to $100 million in security assistance from the same period were frozen. This is in addition to the $300 million cut in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides a wide array of services to over 5 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring countries. Leaked emails authored by Jared Kushner show that the administration is taking deliberate actions to eventually eliminate UNRWA as part of a larger, misguided strategy to remove the Palestinian refugee issue — like it “removed” Jerusalem — from peace negotiations.
The folly of this approach is evident. Despite recent mediation efforts led by the U.N. and Egypt, the risk of another war in Gaza continues to grow, driven in part by the territory’s deplorable economic conditions. With unemployment above 40 percent and residents limited to four hours of electricity per day, not providing these funds threatens to further erode living conditions in Gaza. Already the hold on UNRWA funds has forced the agency to announce significant layoffs and severe cuts to its operations.
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Photo: Taghrid Mohammad/UNRWA