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JERICHO: A senior Palestinian official hit back at Donald Trump on Friday after the US president said he would withhold aid to the Palestinians until they returned to peace negotiations.
Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat accused the US of acting in bad faith and denied that Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas had refused to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The last offer for Netanyahu to come to meet Abu Mazen” came from Russian President Vladimir Putin who invited them both to the World Cup final in July, Erekat said, using the Arabic nickname for Abbas.
“Abu Mazen accepted and Netanyahu rejected, that is the truth,” he told journalists in English.
“And then we have some statements from the White House saying that we continue punishing the Palestinians until they come back to the negotiating table. Which negotiating table?“
Trump has repeatedly said he aims for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, but the Palestinians have refused to meet with his administration since the US leader controversially recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.
The Palestinians consider the annexed eastern sector of the city as their capital, and the status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest issues in their conflict with Israel.
Erekat said Trump’s decision had violated a pledge he made to Abbas in May 2017 that his administration would not adopt any radical steps for 12 months to encourage peace talks.
The Trump administration has cut funds to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees and also scrapped around $200 million in payments by USAID to the Palestinians.
A much vaunted peace proposal has been delayed multiple times.
Trump said Thursday he had cut the funds to force the Palestinians to negotiate.
“The United States was paying them 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,” he told Jewish leaders in Washington.
“I think it’s disrespectful when people don’t come to the table.”
US-brokered peace talks have been frozen since they collapsed in 2014 amid mutual accusations of blame.
Erekat said the Trump administration’s policies were weakening moderates and encouraging radicals across the Middle East.
“If the art of their negotiations is to put us in a position where we have nothing to lose, I think they succeeded,” he said, referring to the president’s business credentials.