The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced this weekend that it would cease all operations in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) by early 2019, laying-off more than half its staff within weeks.
The US State Department informed USAID that it would have until December to present a list of 60 per cent of its employees to be laid-off, Haaretz reported. The dismissals will represent the first step towards the shutdown of its operations in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip, which is expected to be completed early next year.
USAID has invested about $5.5 billion in the oPt since it began its operations in 1994, building roads, schools, clinics and community centres, Haaretz added.
The move will be seen as the latest in a string of cuts in US funding to the oPt. In January, President Donald Trump announced that the US would withhold $65 million in aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides support for millions of Palestinian refugees. In August, the Trump administration decided to stop UNRWA funding altogether, leaving a shortfall of more than a quarter of the agency's $1.2 billion annual budget.
Also in August, the US cut more than $200 million in aid to Palestinians, relocating funds earmarked for the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to other "high-priority projects elsewhere". A senior State Department official said: "We have undertaken a review of US assistance to the Palestinian Authority […] to ensure these funds are spent in accordance with US national interests and provide value to the US taxpayer".
Trump has confessed that these aid cuts are being used as a tool to pressure Palestinian leaders into making concessions under any future peace deal. Speaking in a conference call with Jewish leaders in September, Trump explained that: "I stopped massive amounts of money that we were paying to the Palestinians and the Palestinian leaders […] 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."
Although the US president has yet to reveal his peace plan –dubbed "Deal of the Century" – it is widely expected to be biased towards Israel. In September, US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt stressed that the US "will not put forth a peace plan that does not meet all of Israel's security issues". Earlier this month, Axios reported that President Trump was set to hold a crucial meeting to discuss details of the peace plan and the timing for its release, but no further progress has since been announced.