U.S. pushes ahead with West Asia peace plan

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Gaza, MAY 20,
The Trump administration is aiming to roll out its much-hyped but long-delayed West Asia peace plan next month amid signs it may further alienate the Palestinians by slashing millions of dollars in funding for humanitarian and development projects in the West Bank and Gaza.
Five U.S. officials and a congressional aide 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 Mr. Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt have already begun quietly briefing select allies and partners on elements of the proposal.
Yet any Palestinian willingness to even consider the plan would require conditions to improve and anger to subside considerably in the coming weeks, an unlikely scenario as the Palestinians say evidence of one-sided Mr. Trump giveaways to Israel continues to pile up.
U.S. allies in Europe and the Gulf also have 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.
Limited purposes
The office was ordered closed 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 on Monday’s opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said any deal needs to be between the Palestinians and Israel not the U.S. “I don’t need Jason Greenblatt. I don’t need Kushner,” Mr.Erekat said. “It’s our lives.”

That sense of betrayal may deepen significantly this summer as millions of dollars in U.S. 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 U.S. Agency for International Development will have to notify aid recipients that continued U.S. funding is not forthcoming and those programme will begin to be shut down. Local staffers would be laid off and U.S. officials running the projects would be reassigned elsewhere.

Of $251 million in U.S. aid planned for the Palestinians in 2018, only $50.5 million has been reported spent. The remaining more than $200 million is currently on hold, a figure that does not include an additional $65 million in frozen U.S. assistance to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon.

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