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Trump administration cuts more than $200 million in aid to Palestinians

WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration has decided to cut more than $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians, following a review of the funding for projects in the West Bank and Gaza, the State Department said Friday. The department notified Congress of the decision in a brief, three-paragraph notice sent first to lawmakers and then to reporters. It said the administration will redirect the money to "high priority projects elsewhere."

The move comes as President Trump and his Middle East pointmen, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, staff up their office to prepare for the rollout of a much-vaunted but as yet unclear peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians.

"At the direction of President Trump, we have undertaken a review of U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority and in the West Bank and Gaza to ensure these funds are spent in accordance with U.S. national interests and provide value to the U.S. taxpayer," the department said. "As a result of that review, at the direction of the president, we will redirect more than $200 million ... originally planned for programs in the West Bank and Gaza."

"This decision takes into account the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance in Gaza, where Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza's citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation," the notice said, without providing additional details.

The notice did not give an exact amount of the funds to be cut, but said they had been approved in 2017.

The U.S. had planned to give the Palestinians $251 million for good governance, health, education and funding for civil society in the current 2018 budget year that ends on Sept.30. But with just over a month to go before that money must be used, reprogrammed to other areas or returned to Treasury, less than half has actually been spent. Earlier this month, the department had released about $60 million of the 2018 money for security projects that encourage cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

Israel and Jordan, in particular, had lobbied for the security assistance to be continued.

The loss of the assistance is almost certain to further provoke the Palestinians against the Trump peace plan. The Palestinian leadership has been openly hostile to any proposal from the administration, citing what it says is a pro-Israel bias, notably after Mr. Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December and moved the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv in May. The Palestinian Authority and its President Mahmoud Abbas broke off contact with the U.S. after the Jerusalem announcement.