"Trump will not vanquish us," Mustafa Barghouti, chairman of the Palestine National Initiative and a member of the Palestinian Central Council, said on Ashams Radio Wednesday, after the U.S. president threatened to cut off aid to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and refugees in the diaspora.
The new threats by the U.S. came in response to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's declaration last month that the Americans had "disqualified" themselves from brokering peace talks by recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. "The United States are no longer an honest mediator in the peace process," Abbas had said, announcing that Palestinians would not accept a U.S. peace plan "because of its bias and violation of the international law."
Tuesday's threats were an obvious—yet apparently, unsuccessful—attempt to force Abbas and other Palestinians to embrace U.S. involvement in negotiations.
"Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the state of Palestine and it is not for sale for gold or billions," Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told AFP on Wednesday. "We are not against going back to negotiations, but [these should be] based on international laws and resolutions that have recognized an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital."
Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat accused the Trump administration of "threatening to starve Palestinian children in refugee camps," while Hanan Ashrawi, another senior Palestinian official, reportedly said the Palestinians "will not be blackmailed" by the president. "Trump has sabotaged our search for peace, freedom and justice," and "singlehandedly destroyed the very foundations of peace" with his Jerusalem decision, Ashrawi said.
The U.S. threats to cut aid to Palestinians came from both Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who on Tuesday denounced the U.N. General Assembly resolution opposing the Jerusalem decision and said the president does not want to provide any future funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) "until the Palestinians are agreeing to come back to the negotiation table."
"As of now, they're not coming to the table, but they ask for aid. We're not giving the aid," Haley added. "We're going to make sure that they come to the table and we want to move forward with the peace process."
Tuesday evening, Trump doubled down on Haley's threat, tweeting:
...peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
Haaretz correspondent Noa Landau pointed out that the United States "is the largest bilateral donor" to UNRWA, which according to its U.N. website, provides aid to some five million refugees:
When @nikkihaley says the #US will stop funding @UNRWA - how big is the threat? Here is the agency’s 2016 top-20 donors list. The #US is the largest bilateral donor. Read more: https://t.co/BhWw2VTf9S pic.twitter.com/6KGqRpWKSN— Noa Landau (@noa_landau) January 2, 2018
"A large portion of the organization's activity is focused on providing health care, education, and food aid to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon," the Washington Post noted. "Ending this aid could precipitate a humanitarian crisis, particularly in impoverished Gaza, where a majority of residents are eligible for UNRWA support."
An agency spokesperson told the Post they had not yet been made aware of any official U.S. funding changes.