Trump threatens to cut aid to Palestinian territories

A boy eats his fruit during a rally against the US move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital at Putra Mosque in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Friday, Dec. 22, 2017. (AP)
Updated 03 January 2018
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Trump threatens to cut aid to Palestinian territories

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump admitted the Middle East peace process was in difficulty and threatened to cut aid to Palestinians worth more than $300 million a year, drawing a rebuke that they would not be “blackmailed.”
“We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” Trump tweeted.
“With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
It was not immediately clear whether Trump was threatening all of the budget, worth $319 million in 2016, according to US government figures.
“We will not be blackmailed,” senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement Wednesday after Trump’s tweet.
“President Trump has sabotaged our search for peace, freedom and justice. Now he dares to blame the Palestinians for the consequences of his own irresponsible actions!“
The US has long provided the Palestinian Authority with much-needed budgetary support and security assistance, as well as an additional $304 million for the UN’s programs in the West Bank and Gaza.
Unless Trump follows through on his customary tough talk, the message is likely to be seen as primarily political.
Trump came to office boasting that he could achieve the “ultimate deal” that secures peace in the Middle East, something that has eluded presidents since the late 1960s.
For most the last half century the United States has been seen as indispensable — if sometimes imperfect — arbiter of the peace process.
Trump’s actions are likely to cast that further in doubt.
He has heaped pressure on Palestinians to do a deal, threatening to close the de facto “embassy” in Washington, recognizing Israel’s contested claim on Jerusalem and now threatening aid.
Efforts to harness improved Arab-Israel relations to push a peace deal have been at least temporarily derailed by his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, breaking with decades of American policy.
The decision sparked almost universal diplomatic condemnation and deadly protests in the Palestinian territories.
It also prompted Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas — 82-years-old and facing the prospect of entering the history books as the leader who “lost Jerusalem” — to cancel a planned meeting with Vice President Mike Pence.
Christian and Muslim leaders in Egypt took similar steps.
Pence was forced to delay his December visit to the Middle East until later this month, and aides were on Tuesday forced to reject rumors of further delays.
“As we’ve said all along, the vice president is going to the Middle East in January,” said Pence spokeswoman Alyssa Farah. “We’re finalizing details and will announce specifics of the full trip in the coming days.”


Jordan pushes new IMF-backed tax bill to parliament

Updated 26 September 2018
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Jordan pushes new IMF-backed tax bill to parliament

AMMAN: Jordan’s cabinet on Tuesday sent to parliament an IMF-backed draft tax bill, a main plank of austerity measures to ease rising public debt, an issue that caused street protests last summer, officials said.
The government hopes to push through the new legislation within two months despite opposition from many deputies, saying the law promotes social justice by targeting high earners and combats long-time corporate tax evaders.
Prime Minister Omar Al-Razzaz, a former World Bank economist, was appointed by the monarch last June after his predecessor was sacked in a move to defuse a crisis that saw some of the largest protests in years over tax hikes.
Razzaz withdrew from parliament a tax law that had been put forward by the previous government and said he would hold “broad consultations with civic bodies over a new tax system that will not trample on citizens’ rights.”
Earlier this year, a general sales tax was raised and a subsidy on bread was scrapped as part of the IMF’s three-year fiscal plan that aims to cut the spiralling $37 billion debt, equivalent to 95 percent of gross domestic product.
Unions and civic associations behind last June’s protests have rejected the new modified tax bill saying it should not have been drafted but have so far stopped short of calling for street protests. They want the government to give priority to fighting corruption and cutting public waste.
The government says the new law softens the impact of the tax hikes on middle class families by raising personal income thresholds and reintroducing personal exemptions.
Razzaz has promised to restore public trust in a country where many blame successive governments for failing to deliver on pledges of reviving growth and curbing corruption.
Razzaz has warned that parliament’s rejection of the bill would risk hurting the debt-laden economy, where annual growth has been stagnant at around 2 percent in recent years.
Any delay would push even higher the cost of servicing over 1 billion dinars ($1.4 billion) of foreign debt due in 2019, raising the prospect of rating agencies downgrading the kingdom’s credit ratings, Razzaz said in a recent interview with state television.
“If we don’t come with a tax law we will face these dangers. It will cost us dearly,” Razzaz said last week.
He said the tax bill would bring an extra 300 million dinars in revenue for the budget and avoid worsening a chronic 1.7 billion dinar budget shortfall. (Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Janet Lawrence)