RAMALLAH/GAZA: Palestinian leaders accused the Trump administration of punishing them with one hand and offering to reward them with the other, as protesters turned out in the West Bank and Gaza on Wednesday to demonstrate against a US economic peace plan.
At a US-led conference in Bahrain, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner urged Palestinian leaders boycotting the event to think outside the “traditional box” and consider the $50-billion plan to boost the Palestinian and neighbouring economies.
But Palestinian officials said it was Trump who had inflicted further hardship on Palestinians, cutting hundreds of millions in aid to humanitarian organisations across the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.
“If the US is so concerned about Palestinian well-being, then why did they carry out these punitive measures against us?,” senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official Hanan Ashrawi said in Ramallah.
“Why did they target Palestinian infrastructure? Why did they stop scholarships to Palestinian students?,” she asked.
In August last year, Washington announced an end to all US funding for the UN agency that assists Palestinian refugees. The US was UNRWA’s biggest donor by far up to that point, giving it $364 million in 2017.
And in February, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) ceased all assistance to the Palestinians, to whom it provided $268 million in 2017.
The US cuts were widely seen as a way of putting pressure on the Palestinian leadership to re-engage with the White House, which it has boycotted since Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017.
“The same team that cut 350 million dollars of aid to refugee camps… (goes) to Manama to say we have a brilliant plan to bring Palestinians a new chance, a new opportunity,” Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Tuesday in Jericho.
“Why would Palestinians say no to such (a) plan?,” he added, mockingly.
Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments are attending the event at Manama’s luxury Four Seasons Hotel, where international bureaucrats enjoyed cocktails and delicate pastries, mingling with Arab businessmen sporting gold Rolex watches.
More than 1,500 km away in Gaza, where over half of the enclave’s two million people live in poverty, Palestinians criticised the Arab businessmen who attended for siding with the United States and Israel.
“Capitalists do not think of the poor,” said Abdel Rahim Nateel, 62, who spent most of his life in the Beach refugee camp in northern Gaza.
“Let them come and give aid to the hungry people, make projects, ask Israel not to attack us… let them give us our state on the 1967 borders and we do not want anything else from them.”
Several thousand Palestinians demonstrated in Gaza on Wednesday, burning posters of Trump and his close ally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “No to the conference of treason, no to the conference of shame,” read one banner.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, demonstrations against Bahrain were light for a second day. Some Palestinians voiced a sense of exhaustion about peace efforts and promises of cash and prosperity.
“This conference is just like all others from the past, Arab conferences, American conferences. All of them have been at the Palestinians’ expense,” said Hamdallah Qasem, 72, who lives in Ramallah.
Their own leadership was not exempt from criticism, however. At an Israeli military checkpoint separating Palestinian villages from the neighbouring Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, several Palestinian day labourers said President Mahmoud Abbas was hurting the local economy by boycotting the conference.