Trump to push ahead with controversial Middle East peace plan next month

Trump to push ahead with controversial Middle East peace plan next month

US government set to put plan into motion at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan

US President Donald Trump 

Photo credit: Matt Cardy/PA Wire
US President Donald Trump Photo credit: Matt Cardy/PA Wire

The US government is aiming to roll out its much-hyped but long-delayed Middle East peace plan next month amid signs it may further alienate the Palestinians by slashing millions of dollars in funding for humanitarian and development projects.

Sources say the administration intends to release the peace plan in mid to late-June, shortly after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, although they cautioned that the timing could slip depending on developments in the region.

They say the plan’s main authors – President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and his special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt – have already begun quietly briefing select allies and partners on elements of the proposal.

Any Palestinian willingness to even consider the plan would require conditions to improve and anger to subside considerably in the coming weeks.

However, this is an unlikely scenario as the Palestinians say evidence of one-sided Trump giveaways to Israel continues to pile up.

US allies in Europe and the Persian Gulf have also felt compelled to criticise the administration for its approach.

Ostensibly, Mr Trump would need buy-in from those same countries to build enough momentum for any peace plan to succeed.

The administration has been resisting congressional demands to fully close the Palestine Liberation Organisation office in Washington because Mr Greenblatt and Mr Kushner want to keep that channel open in case the Palestinians are open to re-entering negotiations with Israel based on the plan.

The office was ordered to close by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last November, but has been allowed to stay open for limited purposes under the administration’s interpretation of the law requiring it to be shut down in the absence of peace talks.

The prospect of Palestinian interest in the peace proposal appears dim, however, particularly since Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas recalled the mission’s chief earlier this week to protest against Monday’s opening of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem.

The embassy move is said to have contributed to violent protests in Gaza that were met with deadly force from Israel.

Nearly 60 Palestinians were killed on Monday by Israeli forces, drawing condemnations and calls for restraint from Europe and elsewhere.

The US declined to join those calls and, while regretting the loss of life, opposed efforts at the UN to open an international investigation into the violence.

Mr Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the embassy move and the administration’s unreserved defence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s policies have alienated and angered the Palestinian leadership, which accuses the administration of abandoning its role as a neutral arbiter in the conflict.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said any deal needs to be between the Palestinians and Israel – not the United States.

“I don’t need Jason Greenblatt. I don’t need Kushner,” Erekat said. “It’s our lives.”

That sense of betrayal may deepen significantly this summer as millions of dollars in US assistance to the Palestinians appears likely to be cut and the funds re-allocated to other regions.

That money has been on hold since last year and existing funding for some projects will start to run out in just months if it is not approved in the next two weeks.

If that does not happen, the State Department and the US Agency for International Development will have to notify aid recipients that continued US funding is not forthcoming and those programs will begin to be shut down.

Local staffers would be laid off and US officials running the projects would be reassigned elsewhere.

Of £186m in US aid planned for the Palestinians in 2018, only £37m has been reported spent, according to the government’s online tracker,

“The administration is currently reviewing US assistance to the Palestinians,” USAID said in a statement to The Associated Press.

“USAID is in discussions with all affected implementing partners on the status of the review, and is working closely with the interagency, as the administration concludes its review.”

At immediate risk are between five and 10 of the some 20 USAID projects in the West Bank and Gaza, along with proposed new initiatives, officials said.

Without a quick decision those will run out of money by the end of 2018, they said. Nearly all of the others will run out of money in early 2019 unless the US funding is unblocked, they said.

read more: