Fears funding freeze is going too far

Donald Trump. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

DONALD Trump is being accused of taking his squeeze on Palestinian funding too far, by stopping new grants to organisations that promote coexistence with Israelis.

“It’s totally heartbreaking,” said Robi Damelin, an Israeli bereaved mother who runs a coexistence group with bereaved Palestinian parents.

She was talking to The AJN shortly after hearing that the Trump administration is cutting its last major aid channel to Palestinians, namely $US10 million annual funding to projects like hers which bring together Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

The Trump administration has cut aid to the Palestinian Authority and to the UN’s refugee agency. But even some who applauded these moves have said that Trump has crossed a line with the decision to end funding to coexistence projects, and a recent move to cancel $US25 million in funding to Palestinian hospital patients.

The American Jewish Committee said that it upholds American values, and it makes “total sense” to pressure the Palestinians to negotiate and to block PA aid in order to stop its pay-to-slay stipends. But halting aid to hospitals and coexistence programs does “quite the reverse”.

Aaron David Miller, a US-based analyst who used to run one of the organisations that will lose funding, Seeds of Peace, claimed, “What the Trump administration is doing to Israelis and Palestinians is cruel, stupid, and counterproductive.”

He argued that instead of conditioning funding for the programs on negotiations, as the White House seems to be doing, they should be a priority now during the lull in talks. They are needed now “precisely because there is no peace process”.

The White House sees things differently, and presents the latest move as a hard step in the name of a greater good.

It is suggesting that it needs all the leverage it has in order to push the Palestinians to drop their opposition to negotiations and to consider the new peace plan that Washington is working on.

“I continue to believe in the importance of building relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, particularly kids,” stated Trump’s adviser Jason Greenblatt. “But both Palestinian and Israeli kids will lose, and these programs will be meaningless, if the PA continues to condemn a plan they haven’t seen.”

Damelin said that America is acting dangerously by undermining coexistence work as a strategy to achieve political results. “It can only achieve more violence,” she said.

Her son David was killed when a terrorist opened fire at an IDF roadblock in the West Bank in 2002, and she became involved in The Parents Circle Families Forum, a grassroots organisation of Palestinian and Israeli families who have suffered a bereavement due to the conflict.

She believes that groups like hers are building connections between populations which will prove vital if there is to be a political agreement. “Can they imagine that there could be peace without contact between Israelis and Palestinians? ” she asked rhetorically. “This will cause fear of the unknown, which leads to hatred and its natural partner, violence.”

Her opposition to the US move is “not a question of sentiment – I’m talking on a very pragmatic level”.

But not everyone in Israel shares her conviction that America’s funding cut will be a setback to the cause of peace.
Gerald Steinberg, president of the NGO Monitor watchdog group, which is critical of many Israeli-Palestinian not-for-profits, said regarding the funding cut that he “wasn’t consulted and wouldn’t have recommended it”.

But he thinks there is a logic to using NGOs as “points of pressure”, as several of them are close to the Palestinian political establishment, and they bring much-needed money to Ramallah.

He also claimed that there is “no evidence” that the projects that will lose money have changed attitudes on either the Palestinian or Israeli sides.

Steinberg said: “It’s easy to be swept away by the image of these people-to-people projects but the politics does not work.”

NATHAN JEFFAY