Tens of thousands of Palestinians are no longer getting food aid or basic health services from America, US-funded infrastructure projects have been halted, and an innovative peace-building program in Jerusalem is scaling back its activities. The Trump administration’s decision last year to cut more than $200 million in development aid to the Palestinians is forcing NGOs to slash programs and lay off staff as the effects ripple through a community that has spent more than two decades promoting peace in the Middle East.The US government’s development agency, USAID, has provided more than $5.5 billion to the Palestinians since 1994 for infrastructure, health, education, governance and humanitarian aid programs, all intended to underpin the eventual creation of an independent state. Much of that aid is channeled through international NGOs, which were abruptly informed of the cuts last summer and have been scrambling to keep their programs alive.President Donald Trump says the USAID cuts are aimed at pressuring the Palestinians to return to peace talks, but Palestinian officials say the move has further poisoned relations after the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year. The aid groups, many of which have little or no connection to the Palestinian Authority, say the cuts hurt the most vulnerable Palestinians and those most committed to peace with Israel. USAID has provided more than $5.5 billion to Palestinians since 1994 for infrastructure, health, education, governance and humanitarian aid programmes“If you want to maintain the idea of the peace process, you have to maintain the people who would be part of the peace process,” said Lana Abu Hijleh, the local director for Global Communities, an international NGO active in the Palestinian territories since 1995.Before the aid cuts were announced, it provided food aid — branded as a gift from the American people — to more than 180,000 Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza on behalf of the World Food Program. USAID had planned to contribute $19 million a year for the next five years to continue the project but pulled out in August. Global Communities can now only provide aid to 90,000 people through March, and Abu Hijleh had to lay off around 30 staff, including in Gaza, where unemployment exceeds 50 percent.“It really hurts, because you’re talking about the most basic level of assistance,” she said. The average family receives a monthly voucher worth around $130. Sadeqa Nasser, a woman living in Gaza’s Jebaliya refugee camp, used her voucher to support her disabled husband, their six children and four grandchildren.She says her sons each bring in less than $5 a day from odd jobs. “They cannot afford to buy food for their families, so I help them out,” she said.Since the aid was cut off, she’s been able to qualify for welfare payments from the Palestinian Authority, which itself relies heavily on foreign aid. “Without it we would go hungry,” she said.Funding has also been cut for a five-year, $50 million program run by a coalition of NGOs to provide health services, including clinical breast cancer treatment for some 16,000 women and treatment for some 700 children suffering from chronic diseases.Infrastructure projects, including desperately needed water treatment facilities in the blockaded Gaza Strip, have also been put on hold.Published in Daily Times, January 23rd 2019.