President Donald Trump threatened to withhold aid money from the Palestinians until they return to peace talks with Israel as he sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Trump’s decision in 2016 to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital roiled Arab nations and led Palestinians to withdraw from negotiations on the grounds the US can no longer be trusted as an honest broker in the quest for peace.
Trump said that decision has consequences. The US, he said, gives “hundreds of millions of dollars” to the Palestinians, and “that money is on the table and that money’s not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace”.
Trump’s comment came shortly after he arrived at an economic forum that brings together world leaders, business executives and celebrities. His appearance is aimed at luring foreign investment to the US and highlighting his “America first” economic agenda, despite its seeming odds with a forum that celebrates global cooperation and free trade.
It wasn’t immediately clear what money Trump was referring to in his threat. Washington has contributed over $5bn in economic and security aid to the Palestinians since the mid-1990s. Annual economic aid since 2008 has averaged around $400m, much of it devoted to development projects.
Last week, the Trump administration moved to withhold some – but not all – of a scheduled aid payment to the United Nations agency that assists Palestinian refugees. The Trump administration said it would provide $60m, while keeping $65m until the UN body undertakes a “fundamental re-examination.”
Israel has been overjoyed by Trump’s pivot on Jerusalem, which Netanyahu hailed on Thursday as a “historic decision that will be forever etched in the hearts of our people”.
On a visit to Israel this week, Vice President Mike Pence told Israeli lawmakers that the US was fast-tracking the embassy plans, aiming to move it from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019. Trump said he anticipates having “a small version” of the embassy open sometime next year.
During his remarks, Trump referenced Pence’s trip to the Middle East, which did not include a meeting with Palestinian leaders. Trump said, “they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice president to see them,” adding: “Respect has to be shown to the US or we’re just not going any further.”