Trump hits out at Palestinians and threatens to withhold aid

Palestinians accused of ‘disrespecting’ US by not meeting Vice-President Mike Pence

US president Donald Trump and  Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

US president Donald Trump and Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

 

US president Donald Trump sharpened his rhetoric towards Palestinians on Thursday, threatening to withdraw aid from the region if the Palestinian leadership does not participate in peace talks.

Speaking alongside Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the first day of his two-day visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr Trump accused Palestinians of “disrespecting” the United States by not meeting vice-president Mike Pence during his visit to Jerusalem last week.

“We give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, and support tremendous numbers, numbers that nobody understands. That money is on the table, and that money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.

“Because I can tell you that Israel does want to make peace. And they’re going to have to want to make peace too or we’re going to have nothing to do with it any longer.”

His threat to withhold aid comes a week after the US announced it was suspending half the aid it provides to the Palestinians through the United Nations. The state department said it would give $60 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, but would withhold $65 million “for future consideration”.

Mr Trump said the relationship between the US and Israel had “never been stronger”. He expected that a “small version” of the new US embassy in Jerusalem would be open next year – “a long time ahead of schedule”.

Contested city

Mr Trump’s announcement last month that the US would move its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has alarmed Palestinians and much of the international community. Jerusalem is a contested city, with both sides in the decades-old conflict claiming it as their capital.

Mr Netanyahu welcomed the move as “a historic decision that will be forever etched in the hearts of our people for generations to come”.

“People say that this pushes peace backward. I say it pushes peace forward because it recognises history, it recognises the present reality, and peace can only be built on the basis of truth,” he said as he sat alongside Mr Trump. “By recognizing this history, you’ve made history, and we will always remember that.”

The US president, who was due to dine with several chief executives of several European companies including Siemens, Nestle and Novartis on Thursday night, also held a bilateral meeting with British prime minister Theresa May.

During the meeting it was confirmed that plans were under way for the US president to visit Britain this year, following his decision not to attend the opening of the new US embassy this month.

Mr Trump said the two countries had “a really great relationship”, adding: “I have tremendous respect for the prime minister and the job she’s doing. And I think the feeling is mutual from the standpoint of liking each other a lot.”

Mr Trump will deliver a keynote speech to the Davos forum on Friday.

Transcripts

Meanwhile, developments in the Russia investigation continued apace in Washington. The senate judiciary committee announced it would release transcripts of testimony given by Mr Trump’s son, Donald Trump jnr, and others to the committee last year.

The development comes as Mr Trump surprised many by declaring that he was “looking forward” to speaking with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, and would do so under oath.

“I would love to do it, and I would like to do it as soon as possible,” he said as he departed Washington for Davos.