By Nicholas Wadhams
Palestinians will “slap back” for the humiliation they’ve suffered from the Trump administration and seek to replace the U.S. with other international players in future peace negotiations with Israel, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said.
Opening a conference of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Committee in Ramallah, Abbas criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and for proposing a reduction in aid to the Palestinians. While calling for a “review” of all agreements reached with Israel since the 1993 Oslo accords, Abbas reiterated his commitment to a two-state solution, which to the Palestinians includes a capital in east Jerusalem.
Trump’s actions were a “slap in the face” to Palestinians, he told a packed hall at the Presidential Palace in a speech that was broadcast live. “We will slap back,” he said.
Since Trump announced almost a year ago that he hoped to broker the “ultimate deal,” Palestinians say his strategy has unraveled because it favors Israel. Abbas has refused to meet with American officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, who plans to visit Israel next week without the customary side trip to the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“We are in a very dangerous stage,” Abbas said. “There is nothing more important than Jerusalem.”
Trump said in a Twitter message last week that the U.S. gives the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars each year and gets “no respect or appreciation.” His ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has said the administration is considering a cut in aid to the UN agency that takes care of Palestinian refugees.
The administration is reviewing a proposal to send less than half of a planned $125 million payment and demand that other countries pay more, according to two people familiar with the deliberations.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster support that plan, while Haley and top White House aide Jared Kushner advocate sending nothing. Kushner oversees Trump’s peace efforts in the region.
A decision is expected by Monday, a person said.
While Trump’s threat to cut the UN funding is popular in Israel, government security officials have warned that cutting back the assistance that goes for food, education and health care could fuel violence and strengthen radical Palestinian forces in the West Bank.
The West Bank conference opened a day after Israel bombed a cross-border tunnel in the Gaza Strip that it said was meant for attacks by members of the militant Hamas organization that runs the territory. The tunnel also extended from under Israel’s Kerem Shalom border terminal into Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, an Israeli military spokesman said.
Hamas signed an agreement last year to reconcile with the Palestinian Authority, but the pact has not been implemented as gaps remain over issues that include Abbas’s demand that the group’s militia surrender its weapons. Hamas didn’t participate in Abbas’s meeting in Ramallah.
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