The Trump administration in Washington has slashed more than $25 million in approved aid for six hospitals in East Jerusalem providing care to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The US also announced that it is closing the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington.
The moves are the latest in a series of measures intended to bludgeon Palestinians into submitting to the White House’s “peace” process. The Palestinian Authority froze communications with the American administration in December, when Trump declared that the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The US announced last month that it would stop funding UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, after freezing $300 million in aid in January, throwing the body into unprecedented financial crisis.
The US has also decided to cut $200 million more in bilateral aid to the West Bank and Gaza.
The Trump administration reportedly delayed the cuts to the East Jerusalem hospitals after influential Christian supporters of the facilities lobbied for the exclusion of three of them from legislation placing severe restrictions on aid to Palestinians approved by Congress earlier this year.
Walid Nammour, director of the Augusta Victoria Hospital, told NPR’s Jerusalem correspondent that East Jerusalem hospitals weren’t notified of the the cuts.
Nammour said that US aid had been held up for months before it was finally cut this week, forcing the hospital to take out loans.
A journalist with the Israeli daily Haaretz noted that Trump’s Middle East peace envoy had praised the work of the 130-year-old St. John Eye Hospital, another institution affected by the funding cuts, as recently as March:
Replicating Israeli cruelty in Gaza
By cutting funds for food aid programs, education and healthcare, the US is banking on the same strategy of collective punishment behind Israel’s siege on Gaza.
The blockade, imposed in 2007, has failed to achieve Israel’s aims to end Hamas’ political and military control over the interior of the territory, but has plunged the two million Palestinians living there into poverty and despair.
“Let America know that all these acts will not change our position toward our cause one bit. On the contrary, it consolidates our positions toward every issue, including Jerusalem,” Adnan Husseini, Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs, told NPR.
The group Physicians for Human Rights-Israel warned that the decision to stop funding East Jerusalem hospitals may lead to the “collapse” of the Palestinian healthcare system.
“Israel – the occupier – will have to fill the void in patient care,” the group added.
Israel is not likely to fulfill its obligations under international law and provide essential services for the millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza living under military occupation, and has been content for third party states to fulfill that role through aid.
But the Israeli military establishment believes that without any alternative to UNRWA, US aid cuts will lead to an even worse humanitarian disaster in Gaza, and a “nearly inevitable” escalation in violence, Haaretz reported.
“An Israeli delegation to a donor conference in New York later this month is expected to encourage donor countries to pitch in to guarantee the continued delivery of food, education services and the salaries of the UN’s 30,000 employees in the Strip,” according to Haaretz.
Meanwhile Trump boasted of his use of humanitarian aid for political leverage during a phone call last week described by a White House transcript as including Jewish faith leaders and rabbis ahead of the Jewish new year.
“The United States was paying them [the Palestinians] tremendous amounts of money. And I’d say, you’ll get money, but we’re not paying you until we make a deal. If we don’t make a deal, we’re not paying. And that’s going to have a little impact,” Trump said.
Trump recently signed a military spending bill codifying into law a record-breaking pledge made by his predecessor to give Israel $38 billion in military assistance over 10 years.
The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, meanwhile, told an Israeli newspaper that the Trump administration has not made any challenge to Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.
“Israel shouldn’t have to ask permission from the US” to build settlements, Friedman told Yisrael Hayom last week.
He also denied a claim made by Trump that Israel would have to pay a price for the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem.
“There’s nothing expected of Israel to give in return for the embassy move,” he said.
“I personally cannot imagine a situation in which the Golan Heights will be returned to Syria,” Friedman said.
Bolton threatens ICC
Friedman was responding to comments made by John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, who stated last month that there had been no discussion or decision made about the Golan Heights.
Bolton made clear on Monday that the US would impose sanctions or seek to criminally prosecute officials at the International Criminal Court if they pursue investigations into alleged American war crimes in Afghanistan or those committed by Israel.
The situation in Palestine has been under preliminary examination by the prosecutor’s office since 2015.
“If the court comes after us, Israel, or other US allies we will not sit quietly,” Bolton said during an address to the right-wing Federalist Society in Washington.
During his speech Bolton added that the closure of the Palestine Liberation Office office in Washington was due to Palestinian efforts to prosecute Israeli leaders at The Hague.
He also said that the US would negotiate bilateral agreements to prohibit other states from surrendering Americans to the court.
In addition to breaking with decades of US policy over Israeli settlements, and enshrining US aid to Israel in law, the White House is abandoning and subverting any international body that might challenge Israeli impunity.
During last week’s phone call with Jewish leaders, Trump celebrated the withdrawal of the US from the UN Human Rights Council in June.
The US “will continue to defend Israel’s sovereign rights in all international forums,” Trump stated.