Bethlehem (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - The Palestinian Authority will refuse all US government aid for fear of lawsuits over alleged support for terrorism, officials said Tuesday, throwing into doubt the future of security coordination and projects already under way.
Senior official Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians had demanded all funding stop at the end of January for fear they would expose themselves to costly lawsuits under the US Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA) which is about to come into force.
"The government sent an official letter to the US administration requesting it stop all aid to the Palestinian Authority, including assistance to the Palestinian security services," Erekat told AFP.
He said the main reason for the move was the ATCA legislation.
The legislation passed by the US Congress last year stipulates that foreign organisations that receive certain types of US funding be subject to American counterterrorism laws.
Families of American victims of past Palestinian attacks have pledged to sue the Palestinian Authority over their alleged support for violence.
Israeli and US officials regularly accuse the PA of encouraging violence by providing funds to the families of prisoners or those killed while carrying out attacks against Israelis.
The PA says the payments are a form of welfare to the families who have lost their main breadwinner and denies it is seeking to encourage violence.
Many Palestinians also view prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes in their conflict with Israel. Palestinian leaders often venerate them as martyrs.
US President Donald Trump had already pledged to cut almost all humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, who froze contact with the White House after its declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December 2017.
Palestinian leaders accuse Trump of seeking to blackmail them into accepting the terms of a peace plan his administration has been working on that they believe will be blatantly biased in favour of Israel.
Due to the Palestinians' decision to refuse remaining aid, the planned expansion of a school near Bethlehem will now not be completed, while infrastructure projects in Jericho and other towns will also stop.
The US also is scheduled to provide $35 million in annual support for the Palestinian security services in the coming years, including to help security coordination with Israel that Israeli officials say is crucial for maintaining calm in the occupied West Bank.
This funding had not been cut off by the US government but will now cease.
A US official confirmed Tuesday the United States was "working through" the potential impact of ATCA and had "taken steps to wind down certain projects and programmes in the West Bank and Gaza."
Erekat played down the ending of US funding, saying it would "not impact on the role of the security services".
However, a senior Palestinian security official told AFP the impact could be significant.
They were searching for new sources of funding in Europe and elsewhere, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A handful of US contractors working to support the security services have already left the Palestinian territories, he added.
- The half-built school -
The West Bank village of Al-Jabaa village close to Bethlehem received a USAID grant last year to expand its school, partly to increase the space for girls to study.
Construction began late last year but will now halt this week, with only about a quarter of the work done and the entire school unusable.
"The students cannot go back to school now," Diab Mashaala, mayor of the village, told AFP.
"If it was as it was before (the work began), it would be better than now."
Malak, a teacher at the school, said they had planned a major expansion including a science laboratory and a library.
"The decision to stop construction upset us a lot."
Sean Carroll, president of the Anera organisation that was working with USAID to build the school and implement other projects, said it was likely to remain unfinished unless new funds were found.
"This school has been caught in the middle," he told AFP.
"You would hope that reasonable minds would find a way to finish the school to allow the kids to learn."
The ATCA legislation could prevent the US funding any aid projects in the future, even if relations between Palestinian and US governments improve.