The United States has cut one of its last remaining aid programmes for Palestinians, a move that is going to affect critical patients, including cancer victims and children with serious health conditions.
Washington’s decision on Saturday to scrap its $25m financial assistance to a network of six hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem was sharply criticised by Palestinian leaders and health officials, who called it a “cruel” and “unjustified” act of “political blackmail”.
The withdrawing of the funds came months after President Donald Trump – whose administration has yet to present a long-touted peace plan for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – called for a review of the US assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA).
“As a result of that review, at the direction of the president, we will be redirecting approximately $25m originally planned for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network. Those funds will go to high-priority projects elsewhere,” the US State Department said in a statement on Saturday.
So far, the US funds had made it possible for Palestinians to seek specialised treatment such as cardiac surgery, neonatal intensive care, radiation therapy or children’s dialysis.
These treatments are not available in the occupied West Bank or Gaza, according to the World Health Organization.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, a senior official working in the Jerusalem network of hospitals called the US decision “inhuman and cruel” and urged the international community to intervene.
“We are the only entity that provides critical health services not available elsewhere in Palestine,” said Walid Nammour, chief executive officer at Jerusalem’s Agusta Victoria Hospital.
“Patients should not be caught in the middle of political issues.”
The PA also called the move “an inhuman and immoral action”.
“This is not a formula of peace-building. This is a completely inhuman and immoral action that adopts the Israeli right-wing narrative to target and punish Palestinian citizens to compromise their rights to independence,” said Ahmad Shami, spokesperson for PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
“Such an act of political blackmail goes against the norms of human decency and morality,” added Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee.
The move on Saturday came amid a vacuum in Middle East peace efforts as the US administration presses on with work on the peace plan that has been under discussion for months. Trump has tasked his son-in-law Jared Kushner and lawyer Jason Greenblatt to draft the peace proposals.
Last month, the Trump administration ended a $200m economic assistance for the West Bank and Gaza as part of its USAID programme.
A week later, the US halted all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which provides much-needed services to Palestinians within and outside the occupied territories.
A statement from the Palestinian foreign ministry said the UNRWA aid cut was part of a US attempt “to liquidate the Palestinian cause” and said it would threaten the lives of thousands of Palestinians and the livelihoods of thousands of hospital employees.
“This dangerous and unjustified American escalation has crossed all red lines and is considered a direct aggression against the Palestinian people,” it said.
Defending its decision, Washington said UNRWA needed to make unspecified reforms.
On Thursday, Trump made it clear his decision to slash US funds was to “force the Palestinians to negotiate”, but the decisions have only further heightened tensions with the Palestinian leadership.
“You’ll get money, but we’re not paying you until we make a deal,” he said in Washington, DC. “If we don’t make a deal, we’re not paying.”
The massive cuts in aid for Palestine followed the Trump administration’s controversial decisions to recognise of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year and move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May.