Trump threat to cut aid to Palestinians carries risks

Published: Wednesday, January 03, 2018 @ 3:21 PM
Updated: Wednesday, January 03, 2018 @ 3:20 PM


            FILE - In this May 3, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas arrive in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. With a Twitter post on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, threatening to cut off U.S. aid to the Palestinians, Trump has expressed his frustration over the lack of progress in his hoped-for Mideast peace push. But things could deteriorate even further if Trump follows through on the threat. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
FILE - In this May 3, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas arrive in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. With a Twitter post on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, threatening to cut off U.S. aid to the Palestinians, Trump has expressed his frustration over the lack of progress in his hoped-for Mideast peace push. But things could deteriorate even further if Trump follows through on the threat. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

With a Twitter post threatening to cut off U.S. aid to the Palestinians, President Donald Trump has expressed his frustration over the lack of progress in his hoped-for Mideast peace push. But things could deteriorate even further if Trump follows through on the threat.

Over two decades of on-and-off peace talks, the U.S., Israel and the Palestinians have created a situation of interdependence, with American mediation at the core of this system.

A cutoff in aid would almost certainly harm the Palestinians, particularly those who rely on U.N. refugee services. But Trump's credibility, damaged with the Palestinians after recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, would suffer another blow. And in a worst-case scenario, Israel could find itself footing the bill to provide services to millions of Palestinians while heading closer toward a single binational state with the Palestinians.

Here is a look at U.S. aid to the Palestinians, and the potential implications of that funding drying up.

Q: What aid does the U.S. provide to the Palestinians?

The Palestinian Authority relies heavily on foreign assistance. It receives hundreds of millions of dollars a year from the international community, and the U.S. is a major donor.

The U.S., in contrast to other donors, does not provide direct funding for the Palestinian budget. Instead, its assistance focuses on development projects.

According to the U.S. Consulate, the U.S. has delivered about $5.2 billion in aid to the Palestinians since 1994, with the current level at roughly $400 million a year. This money goes to fund roads, schools, water projects, hospitals and health care, and to help support the Palestinian security forces.

In addition, the U.S. is the largest donor to UNRWA, the U.N. agency that assists Palestinian refugees across the region with services such as housing, health care, education and food assistance. UNRWA says the U.S. contributed over $365 million last year, roughly 30 percent of the agency's budget.

Q: Is the money promised by formal agreement?

There is no formal aid agreement with the Palestinian Authority. The administration requests funds each year that are then approved by Congress.

The Palestinian Authority was established in 1994 as an autonomy government meant to last five years as a prelude to a final peace deal establishing an independent Palestinian state. But after years of failed negotiations and several waves of violence, what was meant to be a temporary arrangement has become permanent.

Today, the U.S. sends little money directly to the Palestinian Authority amid concerns, expressed by U.S. officials and congressmen, that the Palestinians were not doing enough to halt violence, incitement or corruption. Most funds are typically earmarked for projects coordinated through the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Trump's latest Tweet, however, appears to stem from anger over the U.N. General Assembly's vote last month that overwhelmingly rejected his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The Palestinians, who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, say the U.S. is no longer a suitable mediator, and Trump's Mideast diplomacy appears frozen.

At the time of the U.N. vote, Trump warned that countries that backed the Palestinians risked losing American aid. This week, he also took aim at aid to Pakistan, a country that voted with the Palestinians.

Q: Could the Palestinians get alternative funding?

Since Trump's Jerusalem decision, the Palestinians have been seeking to rally diplomatic support both in Europe and across the Arab world. They would likely turn to the European Union and wealthy Gulf Arab states for financial support as well, though it is far from certain others will step up to fill the void.

Q: What are the implications if the aid is cut off?

The Palestinians have been grappling with reductions in aid from cash-strapped donors for several years, and officials say they can also withstand a U.S. cut-off, especially because the money does not go to their operating budget.

"The Palestinian Authority is not going to collapse if the U.S. stops paying its aid, but it will create more difficulties," said Mohammed Mustafa, an economic adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas.

In the short term, the biggest casualty would be UNRWA. The agency provides services to some 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants across the Middle East. The agency, for instance, educates an estimated 270,000 children in Gaza. If schools were forced to close, these children could end up in classrooms run by the ruling Hamas militant group. UNRWA might also be forced to lay off workers in a volatile territory where unemployment already is over 40 percent.

In the long run, things could become even more dire. The Trump administration, already seen as biased by the Palestinians, could have a difficult time bringing them back to the negotiating table as it prepares to float a peace proposal.

Reductions in funding for Palestinian security forces could, ironically, hurt Israeli security. These forces quietly cooperate with Israel in a shared fight against Hamas. For this reason, U.S. officials say security assistance will likely not be touched.

A collapse of the Palestinian Authority, already buckling under hundreds of millions of dollars of debt, could be disastrous for Israel. As an occupying power, Israel could find itself responsible for the welfare and education of over 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinians also might follow through on threats to abandon their dream of establishing an independent state alongside Israel and instead seek equal rights in a single, binational state. This scenario could spell the end of Israel as a democracy with a broad Jewish majority.

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AP correspondents Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

Pulse Trial: Police body cam, surveillance video allowed in trial of alleged gunman’s wife

Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2018 @ 10:50 PM

A view of the Pulse Nightclub sign on June 21, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. A shooter killed 49 people and injured at least 100 in a shooting rampage on June 12, 2016.
Gerardo Mora/Getty Images
A view of the Pulse Nightclub sign on June 21, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. A shooter killed 49 people and injured at least 100 in a shooting rampage on June 12, 2016.(Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)

A federal judge ruled Tuesday on what evidence will and will not be allowed in the Noor Salman trial.

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Salman is the wife of Omar Mateen, who authorities have said killed 49 people and injured more than 100 at the Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016. Mateen was killed by police the night of the shooting.

Noor Salman is the wife of alleged Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen. Authorities believe she knew about the attack that killed 49 and did nothing to stop it.(Facebook/ WFTV.com)

Prosecutors believe Salman knew about the planned attack, came up with a cover story and did nothing to stop the shooting.

Salman faces charges of aiding a former terrorist organization and obstruction of justice.
Judge Paul Byron ruled evidence that involves police body-camera video and surveillance video from inside the nightclub will be allowed in court.

>> Related: Who is Noor (Salman) Mateen, wife of Orlando mass shooter?

The surveillance video shows Mateen walking around the club with a gun.

The evidence also included cellphone video inside a restroom where Mateen fired at several victims and survivors. In the video, multiple rounds of rapid gunfire can be heard. 

Body-camera video from officers showed law enforcement outside of the club giving medical attention to gunshot victims.

Byron ruled last week that a terrorism expert will be allowed to testify about Mateen’s Facebook posts on the Islamic State group.

>> Related: Pulse trial: Terrorism expert allowed to testify

A psychologist has also been allowed to testify.

Salman’s trial is set to begin March 1.

No more free checking for Bank of America customers with low balances

Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2018 @ 11:42 PM

Charlotte-based Bank of America has eliminated a free checking account popular with lower-income customers. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Charlotte-based Bank of America has eliminated a free checking account popular with lower-income customers. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Charlotte-based Bank of America has eliminated a free checking account popular with lower-income customers.

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The bank is now requiring customers to keep more money in their accounts to avoid a $12 monthly fee.

A national petition on change.org has more than 52,000 signatures from people begging the bank not to end its free checking accounts.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the bank switched its e-banking customers into the new accounts this month.

E-checking, which launched in 2010, had a monthly fee of $8.95, but customers could avoid the fee by using online banking and not using a teller.

Now, those customers will have to pay a $12 monthly fee unless they maintain a minimum daily balance of at least $1,500 or make a direct deposit of $250 or more.

Jessica Wassman said her boyfriend just learned about Bank of America’s plan to end its e-checking accounts and transfer those customers to core checking accounts.

"It did seem a little unfair,” Wassman said. “If you don't make a certain amount of money, you get penalized for it. It was a little insulting. The cost of living is going up, but poverty is still big and people can't afford simple things.”

Economist John Connaughton said checking accounts cost banks money and, with the economy improving, said customers can expect higher bank fees.

"When you start to see 4 percent unemployment, those are the types of things that happen,” Connaughton said.

Country music star, actress Lari White dead at 52 after battle with cancer

Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2018 @ 11:19 PM

Lari White performs a tribute to Alan and Marilyn Bergman, not pictured, during the ASCAP Film and Television music awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Tuesday, May 6, 2008. 
Matt Sayles/AP
Lari White performs a tribute to Alan and Marilyn Bergman, not pictured, during the ASCAP Film and Television music awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Tuesday, May 6, 2008. (Matt Sayles/AP)

The multi-talented singer, songwriter, musician and actress Lari White has died.

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The artist was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer in late 2017. White first broke the news in a blog post on Artist Works, telling readers that she had already endured pneumonia, surgery and was dealing with pain management. A Caring Bridge page was then established by her family to keep family, fans and friends posted on her progress. Unfortunately, treatment, which included trying two new chemotherapy drugs, was unsuccessful, and on Jan. 23, White succumbed to the disease at the age of 52.

In one of the most recent posts on the Caring Bridge page, White’s mother wrote, “There is so much I could say about Lari, but multitudes of you have said it already. God gave us a very special gift when he sent this incredible baby to a young, inexperienced … and frightened … couple … But in spite of this, we loved her with all our hearts. From the beginning, we knew that she was ‘something else’ … wise and funny, intelligent and super-talented … so loving, kind and compassionate … with a heart as big as all of heaven. I have never known a person who did not love her and respect her, as evidenced by the great outpouring of love and concern of so many people. Every role she has played in life has been superb, and most of all, her role as mother. We are blessed to be her family. [Husband] Chuck [Cannon] and their three children are blessed to have her as wife and mother. Thank you, God, for Lari!”

>> Related: Country artist’s mother talks about daughter’s illness taking tragic turn

White earned Nashville’s attention in 1988 when she was named a winner in the reality competition show “You Can Be a Star,” a show that also helped launch the career of Trisha Yearwood.

She went on to release her first album, “Lead Me Not,” in 1993 and quickly established herself as a respected songwriter and singer with a sweet, but incredibly soulful, voice. Her sophomore album, “Wishes,” went on to produce three hit singles, including “That’s My Baby,” “Now I Know” and “That’s How You Know (When You’re In Love).” A 1997 duet with Travis Tritt, “Helping Me Get Over You,” cracked the Top 20 on “Billboard’s” Hot Country Songs chart.

In 1996, and then again in 1998, White became a Grammy winner for her contributions to “Amazing Grace: A Country Salute to Gospel” and “Amazing Grace 2.” She won a third Grammy in 1999 for her involvement on the soundtrack for the movie “The Apostle,” which featured June Carter Cash and Billy Joe Shaver. Lari performed the traditional hymn “There is Power in the Blood” for the collection.

>> Related: Country star’s tribute to her dying artist friend will move you to tears

The star also had success as one of the few female producers working in country music. She produced Toby Keith’s 2006 album, “White Trash With Money,” and co-produced four songs on Billy Dean’s “Let Them Be Little” album in 2004.

White gained big screen recognition when she appeared in the 2000 film “Cast Away” starring Tom Hanks. She also went on to appear in the 2010 Tim McGraw and Gwyneth Paltrow movie, “Country Strong.” In addition, she appeared on the stage in the Broadway musical “Ring of Fire.”

Married to fellow hit songwriter Chuck Cannon (“I Love the Way You Love Me,” “How Do You Like Me Now?!”), White was the mother of three children–M’Kenzy, Kyra and Jaxon. White and Cannon co-wrote “I Will Not Say Goodbye” with songwriter Vicky McGehee, which became a Top 40 hit for Dany Gokey. Sadly, the song was inspired by the untimely passing of a dear friend’s 14-year-old son.

Man with tattooed face wanted for climbing in unlocked window, assaulting woman

Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2018 @ 9:01 PM

Domestic assault suspect Michael Mann is wanted by Cincinnati authorities.
Crimestoppers Cincinnati
Domestic assault suspect Michael Mann is wanted by Cincinnati authorities.(Crimestoppers Cincinnati)

Ohio authorities are searching for a man with distinctive tattoos covering his face and neck, who is  accused of climbing through an unlocked window at a Cincinnati home and assaulting a woman.

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Michael Mann, 34, is wanted for aggravated burglary and domestic violence.

According to police reports, Mann entered the woman's Cincinnati home and slapped and choked her. Police said he has a history of domestic violence and drug charges.

The latest incident involving Mann and the victim, who he has a child with, happened on Jan. 9.

Police are asking for the public’s help in finding the suspect.