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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The Palestinians did not have knowledge of the UAE-Israel agreement to establish diplomatic relations in return for stopping the annexation of the Palestinian territories, two officials have told The National.
US President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that the two countries would sign bilateral agreements in the coming weeks, a historic announcement that adds the UAE to the two Arab countries that have formal relations with Israel: Egypt and Jordan.
But the Palestinians, whose relations with the United States have fallen to an all-time low under the Trump administration, were not informed ahead of announcement, according to one Palestine Liberation Organisation official.
“We didn’t know,” he said. “I’m shocked.”
A second official from the Palestinian Authority, which operates limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank, said he found out with the rest of the world after President Trump tweeted the statement.
“I didn’t know. I just read about it in the press,” the senior official said.
He said there was a chance that a Palestinian figure at the highest level may have known, such as President Mahmoud Abbas or intelligence chief Majed Faraj.
“Maybe someone relayed it through our intelligence apparatus,” the official said.
Officials in the office of President Abbas were not immediately available for comment.
Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi, who had a visa rejected by the Trump administration last year, tweeted angrily in response to the news.
Both the Trump administration and Israel’s right-wing government blame the Palestinian Authority for the failure to reach a peace agreement, accusing it of corruption, inciting terrorism and a refusal to negotiate.
A former adviser to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and outgoing defence minister Naftali Bennett said that, in the event the Palestinians were not informed, there would have been clear reasons for the parties not to do so.
"One imagines that sadly, they were always expected to condemn such positive progress, so why give them the chance to veto it too?" the former adviser said.
The Palestinians flatly deny those claims of obstruction, and blame Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for the failure to strike a peace deal after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War when Israel captured those territories. They say Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his partners in government seek to maintain the status quo of occupation, with the threat of creeping towards full annexation of the occupied West Bank.
The Palestinians have also broken off ties with the Trump administration over what it says is biased decision-making in favour of Israel. They point to his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the closure of the PLO office in Washington, and a peace proposal they say ignores their key demands, as evidence of the US failure to be an honest broker.
President Trump and his Middle East team, which includes son-in-law Jared Kushner and his former lawyer David Friedman, say the Palestinian decision to cut off all communications, including between the CIA and the Palestinian security services, has harmed their cause. They have also broken off security arrangements with the Israelis that had been maintained since the 1995 Oslo Accords.
The UAE views Thursday’s agreement as progressing hopes for peace in the decades-long conflict. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash hailed the agreement to stop annexation as a "significant diplomatic achievement" that sustains "efforts to achieve a two-state solution" between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The two-state solution remains the favoured position of all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, based on the Arab Peace Initiative outlined by Saudi Arabia and agreed by the Arab League in 2002.
"Most countries will see this as a bold step to secure a two-state solution, allowing time for negotiations," Dr Gargash said.
The UAE has repeatedly opposed Israel’s efforts to annex the occupied Palestinian territories, which Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has touted to rally his right-wing base in a year that had a record three elections. He now serves in a coalition government with former Israeli military chief Benny Gantz, also a supporter of annexation.
UAE ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba penned an op-ed in Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth several weeks ago calling for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stand down from those plans if Israel wanted to achieve better relations with Abu Dhabi.
Israel’s ties have been warming in the Gulf. Mr Netanyahu visited Oman in October 2018, Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in June last year, the same month that the Trump administration sponsored an economic conference for the Palestinians in Bahrain that was widely viewed as a pro-Israeli affair.
Egypt endorsed the agreement on Thursday, while the other key Palestinian faction, Hamas, the Islamist party which runs the Gaza Strip that borders Egypt, was quick to condemn it.
It said in a statement that the agreement "does not serve the Palestinian cause". Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 over what it says are attempts to break a years-long blockade that has left the territory on the brink of being unliveable, according to the United Nations. Israel and the US have designated Hamas a terrorist organisation for its attacks inside Israeli territory and its rocket fire on Israeli civilian populations.
Updated: August 13, 2020 09:56 PM
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