Occupied East Jerusalem – The United Arab Emirates (UAE) decision to normalise ties with Israel did not surprise Saeed Ibrahim, an 83-year-old Palestinian living in East Jerusalem. For Ibrahim, it was just the latest betrayal of the Palestinian cause by Arab states.
“It all began with Anwar Sadat’s visit to al-Quds. It is Egypt who opened the door,” he said, referring to the former Egyptian president’s visit to Israel in 1977.
“Before that, no one dared to say peace with Israel.”
Sadat’s visit, the first by an Arab leader to Israel, resulted in normalising of ties between Cairo and Israel. Jordan followed decades later, signing a peace treaty and establishing diplomatic relations in 1994.
The rest of the Arab states held out. That is, until now.
For years, Palestinians have known about the existence of relations, albeit discreet, between the UAE and Israel. Still, they did not see an announcement of formal ties between the two countries coming this soon.
The move is just the latest blow to the Palestinian cause by the United States since Donald Trump took office in 2016. It comes on the back of a US decision in 2017 to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the unveiling of this year’s so-called “Middle East Peace Plan” that resulted in Israel declaring plans to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank.
That the UAE-Israel agreement temporarily holds Israel off from declaring sovereignty over its illegal settlements in the West Bank – from a Palestinian perspective – is little justification for the rapprochement.
The UAE decision “was coming” regardless of Israel’s annexation plans, according to Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. This “decision is at the expense of the legitimate Palestinian national rights,” he told the Palestinian news agency Wafa on Friday.
Meanwhile, Hamas, the group that controls the Gaza Strip, condemned the Emirati recognition of Israel as a “cowardly” and “desperate attempt to influence the struggle to defeat the occupation and the fulfilment of the national rights”.
Following Friday’s noon prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a group of Palestinians raised the Palestinian flag along with large photos of Mohmmed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto ruler of the UAE, with the word “traitor” written underneath.
Palestinians have for years been troubled by signs of closer ties between Israel and countries in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as well as other Muslim-majority nations, such as Sudan in Africa.
And for many, the normalising of ties between Israel and the UAE signal the crumbling of a long-held mantra by the Palestinian leadership that only peace with the Palestinians can usher in peace between Israel and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world.
“The card that was in the hands of Mahmoud Abbas that there are fifty-seven Arab and Islamic countries to do peace with [if Israel agrees to a two-state solution] has now fallen,” said Muhammad Abdel-Qader, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem.
Some blame the Palestinian Authority for the present-day situation.
“After the Palestinian leadership gave legitimacy to Israel and colonialism, the recognition [of Israel] by others is just a matter of detail, ” 63-year-old Yousef Sharqawi, a former Fatah member told Al Jazeera.
He was referring to the Oslo Accords signed between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in 1993, in which both sides pledged to sign a permanent deal within five years providing for two states for the two peoples.
“We have recognised Israel in exchange for a superficial authority, the Palestinian people must change the status quo whatever the cost may be,” said Sharqawi.
Recent events and the long standstill at resolving the Palestinian issue is giving momentum to the long-held demand for reforming the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). Hamas which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 is the largest Palestinian faction outside the PLO umbrella.
“Palestinians have a bigger problem than the issue of the UAE declaring the normalisation of relations with Israel,” said George As’ad, a Palestinian entrepreneur.
“As Palestinians, we haven’t had real Arab support for the Palestinian cause,” he said. “So [the announcement of formal ties now] doesn’t hurt because under the table they had been normal.”
The fundamental issue, he said, was an “antiquated PLO”.
“It’s the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people but it is not really completely representative because there are lots of parties effective on the ground but are not represented” he added.
The trilateral announcement, which came ahead of the US presidential election is believed to serve Trump’s re-election chances and ease pressure from Israeli far-right groups on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his West Bank annexation pledge was put on hold.
A by-product of the ties between Israel and the UAE may be the hastening of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.