Under orders from the Trump administration, the U.S. Agency for International Development is preparing to lay off most of its Palestinian aid workers in its West Bank and Gaza mission, according to U.S. government communications reviewed by NPR.
It’s the latest step toward shrinking a decades-long U.S. aid mission to build the capacity for a future Palestinian state. The decision to dismiss the aid workers raises questions about how the Trump administration can implement the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan it vows to soon unveil — with an emphasis on major investments in the Palestinian economy, potentially funded by Gulf Arab states.
“It’s a huge mistake,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, who served during the Obama administration. “None of this makes any sense,” he said.
The move was seen as an effort to pressure Palestinian leaders to cooperate with U.S.-led peace efforts. The Trump administration said Wednesday that it will unveil its peace plan after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assembles his new government and after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends in early June.
A former development officer at USAID choked up as he spoke with NPR about his former Palestinian colleagues. “I’m emotional about this. We meant to change people’s lives,” he said, speaking anonymously because he did not wish to speak out against his former employer. “People really believed this is doable. USAID [has been] putting in infrastructure for factories, building hundreds of schools, creating thousands of jobs. There was a real hope there might be a future where we could live independently. Now that hope is collapsing.”
For years, USAID’s Palestinian staff often faced personal risk during armed conflict or threats from Palestinian groups for working with the U.S.