WASHINGTON (JTA) — Two-thirds of Democrats in the Senate and a third of the entire body signed a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to reinstate assistance to the Palestinians, saying the cuts risk exacerbating tensions in the region.
“Eliminating funds for programs that provide clean water, food, education, and medical services for Palestinians will exacerbate poverty, fuel extremism, further reduce the chance of a future peace agreement and threaten Israel’s security,” said the letter sent Friday and signed by 34 senators who caucus with the Democrats.
Trump’s cuts, penalizing Palestinians for backing away from efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, include $200 million in aid to the Palestinians and $300 million in contributions to UNRWA, the U.N. agency that assists Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
The letter noted that Congress authorized the assistance and that it does not go directly to the Palestinian Authority.
“We are deeply concerned that your strategy of attempting to force the Palestinian Authority to the negotiating table by withholding humanitarian assistance from women and children is misguided and destined to backfire,” the letter said. “Your proposed cuts would undermine those who seek a peaceful resolution and strengthen the hands of Hamas and other extremists in the Gaza Strip, as the humanitarian crisis there worsens.”
The letter was supported by J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group. “By exacerbating the humanitarian nightmare in Gaza, these cuts promote instability and increase the security threat to Israelis,” the group said in a statement.
The letter was initiated by Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Chris Coons D-Del. Jewish signatories include Feinstein, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.
Signatories believed to be contemplating presidential runs include Sanders, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California.