In the latest blow dealt by the American government to the Palestinians, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which was responsible for millions of dollars of aid projects in the occupied Palestinian territory, will be laying off some 85% of its local staff in the coming weeks.
A Thursday report from NPR citing U.S. government communications speculated that the Trump administration ordered the job cuts as part of the lead up to unveiling its peace plan, which is set to be released in the coming months.
USAID is expected to reduce its number of local staff from 100 employees to 14, NPR said, quoting an anonymous USAID worker who said they had “begun to take steps to reduce our staffing footprint.”
NPR noted that the majority of the staff to be laid off are Palestinians from the occupied territories and Palestinian citizens of Israel, while a smaller number are Jewish Israelis.
Reacting to the news of the layoffs, former director of the USAID mission for the Palestinian territories Dave Harden told NPR, “the administration is firing a national treasure. People dedicating their lives to fighting for America and fighting for peace…We are abandoning them.”
Earlier this year, USAID officially ceased all operations in Gaza and the West Bank following a 2018 decision to shutter the agencies work in the occupied territories, leaving thousands of local Palestinian institutions and businesses that benefit from USAID funding empty handed.
For more than two decades, USAID invested some $5.5 billion into infrastructure, education, health, and economic projects in the occupied Palestinian territory.
USAID billboards and signage can be found across cities and villages in the West Bank and Gaza, promoting the agency’s funding of new roads, water facilities, clinics, and schools.
Daniel Shapiro, the former US ambassador to Israel under Obama, told NPR that the Trump administration was making a “huge mistake” regarding the USAID staff cuts and ceasure of operations, saying “none of this makes any sense.”
Since taking office, President Trump has slashed some $500 million in US aid to Palestinians, leaving many organizations like UNRWA, as well as the Palestinian government itself, strapped for cash.
Policies over the past few months, like shutting down USAID operations, defunding UNRWA and the World Food Programme, downgrading the consulate in Jerusalem, and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights are aimed at further alienating Palestinians leading up to Trump’s widely anticipated “Deal of the Century,” something Palestinian leaders have called “political blackmail.”
“The American administration doesn’t care about the Palestinian people, they are only interested in pleasing the Israeli politicians,” Mohammed al-Masri, the head of Fatah in Bethlehem told Mondoweiss.
“When the US cut the funding for USAID, and now is firing all the local employees, it is only strengthening the distrust that Palestinians already have for the American government,” he said.
Al-Masri highlighted the fact that the services and projects provided by USAID were apolitical, and served only to provide humanitarian and economic relief to the Palestinians.
“The Americans are just trying to put more pressure on the the Palestinian government so when it comes time to put their peace plan on the table, we will be forced to accept whatever they offer us.”