Palestinians unaware of US-brokered UAE-Israel deal before announcement, officials say

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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 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.

Palestinian protesters wave flags as Israeli troops take position during a protest against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah. Reuters

Now that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has secured a new term in office, there’s little to prevent him from annexing large parts of the West Bank as early as this summer. AP

An Israeli soldier stands guard during a tour made by Israeli parliament members in the Jordan Valley near the Jewish settlement of Maale Efrayim. Reuters

Israeli soldiers take position as Palestinian demonstrators gather during a protest against expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. AP

King Abdullah (r) of Transjordan on May 13, 1948 in Amman with Abed Al Rahman Azzam, the secretary general of the Arab League and Abd Al Elah Ibn Ali, the Prince Regent of Iraq, the day before the beginning of the first Arab-Israeli War. AFP

Palestinians surrender to Israeli soldiers in June 1967 in the occupied territory of the West Bank after Israel launched a pre-emptive attack on Egypt and Syria and seized the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights in Syria as well as the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem. AFP

A Palestinian child plays in a refugee camp in Jordan on June 23, 1967. AFP

PLO chairman Yasser Arafat delivers a speech to the Palestine National Council meeting to make the historic proclamation of a Palestinian state in the Israeli-occupied territories and to recognize Israel in the Palace of Nations conference hall on November 12, 1988, in Algiers. AFP

US President Bill Clinton stands between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin as they shake hands for the first time on September 13, 1993 at the White House. AFP

Hussein Ibn Talal, King of Jordan and Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin shake hands after they exchanged the documents of the Peace Treaty at Beit Gabriel conference centre on November 10, 1994 on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee. AFP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the Palestinian leadership meeting and threatened to end security coordination with Israel and the United States, saying Israeli annexation would ruin chances for peace. AFP

Houses in the Israeli settlement of settlement of Kedumim are seen in the foreground as part of the Palestinian city of Nablus is seen in the background (far left) in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Reuters

Israel's controversial concrete barrier (C) separating the Jewish settlement of Neve Yaakov (foreground) in the northern part of east Jerusalem and the Palestinian area of al-Ram (background) in the occupied West Bank. AFP

An Israeli activist holds a banner during a protest against the US peace plan for the Middle East, in front of the US ambassador's residence in Jerusalem, on May 15, 2020, as Palestinians commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the 1948 Nakba or "catastrophe". AFP

A Palestinian shepherd tends to his camels on arid land considered to be in "Area C" (under Israeli security and administrative control), southeast of Yatta town in the southern West Bank district of Hebron. AFP

A general view of the Israeli settlement of Elon Moreh, as seen from the Palestinian village of Azmout near the West Bank City of Nablus. EPA

The West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Michmash. AP

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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