The US State Department has said the Trump administration has decided to cut more than $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians, following a review of the funding for projects in the West Bank and Gaza.
In a short notice sent to lawmakers on Friday, it said the administration will redirect the money to "high-priority projects elsewhere."
"At the direction of President Trump, we have undertaken a review of US assistance to the Palestinian Authority and in the West Bank and Gaza to ensure these funds are spent in accordance with US national interests and provide value to the US taxpayer," the department said.
The notice did not provide an exact amount of the funds to be cut.
The cuts come just as President Donald Trump and his Middle East point men, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, prepare to present a long-awaited but as yet unclear peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians.
The US had initially planned to give the Palestinians $251 million for good governance, health, education and funding for civil society in the current 2018 budget year that ends on September 30.
A provocative move
The Palestine Liberation Organization was quick to denounce the decision. "The rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale," PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement.
"There is no glory in constantly bullying and punishing a people under occupation. The US administration has already demonstrated meanness of spirit in its collusion with the Israeli occupation and its theft of land and resources; now it is exercising economic meanness by punishing the Palestinian victims of this occupation."
Loss of the funds is almost certain to further provoke the Palestinians and set them against the Trump peace plan. The Palestinian leadership has been openly hostile to any proposal from the administration, citing what it says is a pro-Israel bias. Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December, and the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv in May.
The Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, broke off contact with the US after the Jerusalem announcement.
Friday's move to cut aid does not take into account some $65 million in frozen US funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon. But officials have said the Trump administration is extremely skeptical of UNRWA, and said the money is also likely to be redirected.
The funding decision comes after a similar decision last week in which the State Department announced it was going to redirect $230 million in aid that had been planned for stabilization programs in liberated areas of Syria.
In that case, however, the department said the loss of US funding would be more than offset by other nations, including Saudi Arabia, which announced a $150 million contribution for Syria stabilization just hours before the American announcement.
av/cmk (AP, Reuters)