STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We are revealing news this morning that shows the Trump administration's approach to Israelis and Palestinians. The story involves the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. NPR has learned the agency is preparing to lay off most of its Palestinian aid workers in its West Bank and Gaza mission. NPR's Daniel Estrin bases that revelation on U.S. government communications that he has reviewed, and Daniel's on the line from Jerusalem.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.
INSKEEP: What are these - who are these USAID people, and what have they been doing?
ESTRIN: Well, there are about a hundred local staffers in the USAID mission here. Mostly, they're Palestinian employees; there are also Israelis. And the plan is to lay off all but 14 of them this summer. And these are people who have, you know, been in this mission - which has been here for several decades - trying to invest in the Palestinian territories, investing in infrastructure, in sewage, in clean water and people trying to - well, they say - prepare the path for a peace deal and an independent Palestinian state.
And it's a really emotional moment for people I've been speaking with who've been involved in these efforts because - well, I spoke with one Palestinian man who was on the verge of tears. He spent years working with USAID here. He says USAID had the resources, the connections to open doors and invest. And it gave people hope that things were going in the right direction, and he says now that's vanishing.
INSKEEP: OK. Just to repeat that number, you said there's about a hundred staffers, and it's going to go down to 14...
INSKEEP: ...Local staffers, everybody else being laid off, according to your reporting. How does that fit in with the Trump administration's approach to Palestinians over the past couple of years?
ESTRIN: Well, this is really just the latest chapter in a very long saga, a kind of - a diplomatic war, I guess you could call it, between the U.S. and the Palestinians. It goes all the way back to, well, when you were here, Steve, in Jerusalem when the U.S. moved its embassy here. Trump was backing Israel's claims to the city. Palestinian leaders cut ties with the U.S., said the U.S. can't lead a peace process.
So then president Trump said, well, why do we give the Palestinians all this money when they won't cooperate with us? And then we started to see, as the months went on, the U.S. cut all kinds of money to the Palestinians - money for hospitals for cancer treatment, money for food for poor people in Gaza. And now all USAID projects for the Palestinians have stopped.
INSKEEP: I suppose this has been the Trump administration negotiating strategy up to now - right? - and fairly overt, essentially saying to the Palestinians - take what you believe is a bad deal because if you don't, we're just going to make the deal worse and worse.
ESTRIN: Yes. Well, they've also been saying, you haven't seen the deal yet. And the Trump administration just yesterday said that it will be soon unveiling this long-awaited peace plan at - by early June at the earliest. And they're saying wait to see what the peace plan has in store, and then judge it.
INSKEEP: Is this peace plan likely to be consistent with what the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been saying? - because of course, he made a last-minute election promise very recently that he would begin annexing parts of the West Bank, territory that Palestinians claim for themselves.
ESTRIN: Right. Honestly, we don't know. The White House is keeping their cards close to their chest. But they have said that this plan is going to feature a big economic component, economic investment in the Palestinian territories. And so going back to these USAID layoffs expected, it raises the question - who is going to be on the ground here to oversee a U.S. plan for economic investment if economic aid experts are laid off?
INSKEEP: Yeah. Well, let's just go back and repeat Daniel Estrin's revelation based on U.S. government communications - and the government has confirmed it, by the way - of about a hundred local aid workers in USAID in the West Bank and Gaza, all but 14 are being laid off.
Daniel, thank you so much.
ESTRIN: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Jerusalem.
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