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Why did the PA decide to resume diplomatic ties with the UAE and Bahrain?

December 17, 2020 at 4:17 pm

Palestinians take part in a protest against the UAE’s deal with Israel to normalise relations, in Gaza on 16 August 2020 [Mahmoud Nasser/ApaImages]

The Palestinian Authority’s decision to send its ambassadors back to the UAE and Bahrain stems from the fact that it has found itself isolated amid the wave of normalisation sweeping across the Arab world. The ambassadors were withdrawn in protest when the pair of Gulf States signed normalisation deals with Israel in September.

The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, expressed his optimism at the PA’s move, which suggests, he believes, that the authority is accepting the so-called “Abraham Accords”. This was rejected by Riyad Al-Maliki, the PA Minister of Foreign Affairs, who stressed that sending the ambassadors back to Abu Dhabi and Manama has nothing to do with accepting the Israeli, Emirati and Bahraini peace deals.

Resuming diplomatic ties with Abu Dhabi has a price. The conditional financial support that the PA has received ever since it signed the 1995 Oslo II Accord has decreased due to the PA’s rejection of US President Donald Trump’s plans for Palestine-Israel. Washington has applied pressure on some Gulf States to try to get the Palestinians to submit to the diktats of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It was thus no surprise that, after a six-month freeze, the PA decided on 17 November to resume “security cooperation” with Israel on civil matters. It is worth remembering that security cooperation never really stopped in any case.

I believe that the strategic and security interests of the UAE and Bahrain were uppermost in their governments’ minds when they normalised with Israel. The PA, meanwhile, has got over the shock of the agreements and realised that creating enmity with Arab countries is not in its own best interests. Ramallah relies on foreign aid as well as moral support from the Arab states as much as anyone else. Moreover, let’s not forget the pressure imposed on Abbas by Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi a few weeks ago in Cairo. Egypt has always been at the forefront when it comes to issues related to the Palestinian cause, and was the first Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel, in 1979, having administered Gaza between 1948 and 1967.

READ: Abbas facilitates Israel’s ‘no preconditions’ condition for negotiations

PA President Mahmoud Abbas has no influence on Arab countries which have already normalised with Israel, or even those which have the intention to do so. The PA needs Arab money and moral support, and is now counting on Joe Biden to take a different approach in the White House. Hence, its change of course with Abu Dhabi, which hosts former Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan who leads the Democratic Fatah Reform Current and whose name is mentioned as a successor to Abbas. There is a fear that Dahlan might plot a comeback to lead the PA if a presidential election ever takes place in occupied Palestine. As such, Abbas wants to establish friendly relations and positive channels of communication.

According to London-based political analyst Akram Atallah, the PA is caught between a rock and a hard place. “The PA has started the peace process — it normalised ties with Israel in 1995 — and cannot blame other Arab countries if they decide to act on their own and sign peace deals with Israel,” he told me. “It protested against the latest normalisation deals, because it has to show that it is against the deals. But it has changed its position because it cannot isolate itself from the rest of the Arab region, especially the normalising Gulf States.”

Normalisation with Israel. Who's next? ... - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Normalisation with Israel. Who’s next? …
– Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

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