Middle East Eye / August 14, 2020
Palestinians across the territories say the pact bolsters Israeli occupation at the expense of their legitimate rights.
For the past 24 hours, news of the normalisation agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates dominated local headlines in the occupied Palestinian territories, as Palestinians and their leaders expressed indignation over what they say was another Arab country “selling them out”.
The agreement, which was announced on Thursday evening, was brokered by US President Donald Trump and stipulated that Israel would suspend its annexation of parts of the West Bank in exchange for diplomatic relations with the UAE.
While the UAE is the first Gulf Arab state to reach such a public agreement with Israel, the country, along with its neighbour Saudi Arabia, has long been friendly with Israel and practised “under the table” normalisation.
A joint statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed hailed the decision as a “historic diplomatic breakthrough” that will “advance peace in the Middle East region”.
But Palestinians say the new agreement will do just the opposite.
“This is a dangerous decision that will bring nothing but more persecution of the Palestinian people,” Iyad Naser, secretary-general of the Fatah movement in the southern Gaza Strip, told Middle East Eye.
Naser told MEE that the people in the Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip, like all Palestinians, were overcome with emotions of disappointment and frustration when the news of the agreement broke on Thursday.
“You could feel it in the air, this sense that we had been betrayed by our brothers,” he said. “With this decision, the UAE is not just betraying the Palestinian people, but all Arabs, and even their own people.”
In occupied East Jerusalem, Jawad Siyam, director of the Wadi Hilweh Information Centre in the neighbourhood of Silwan, expressed similar sentiments.
“Normalisation is betrayal,” Siyam said. “It’s as simple as that.”
While the timing of the decision came as a surprise to Siyam and many others, he said that the decision by the UAE to normalise relations with Israel was a long time coming.
“Whoever thought that something like this wouldn’t happen is blind,” Siyam said. “For years you can see how they have been working together. It’s not just the Emirates, it is Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries. They are slaves to Israel and America,” he said.
Annexation ‘will never stop’
In the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, the ongoing effects of the Israeli occupation are clear as day. Surrounded by walls and expanding settlements, Palestinians living there are reminded every day of the control Israel has over their lives.
George Zeidan, a 30-year-old local youth activist and co-founder of the Right To Movement group, told MEE that annexation is an “ongoing reality for Palestinians in the West Bank”.
“To use annexation as an excuse for normalisation is outrageous,” Zeidan said, referring to Israel’s supposed promise to suspend the policy in exchange for diplomatic relations with the UAE.
“Annexation is an illegal practice,” he said. “So freezing an illegal policy should not grant Israel peace with Arab nations, it’s not something they should be rewarded for.”
The idea that annexation was frozen as a result of this agreement, however, is a farce, according to Zeidan.
“Just an hour or two after the announcement, Netanyahu promised clearly that he will not stop pursuing annexation. It’s really pathetic,” Zeidan said. “Israel gave up nothing to get this relationship.”
“Everybody loves peace,” he continued. “But this is not peace. This is normalisation of an occupation. It’s a daily occupation on the ground, in which Israel continues the daily humiliation of the Palestinian population in occupied territories.”
While the official annexation of the West Bank has been halted, the consistent “theft and seizure” of Palestinian land has not, Zeidan pointed out, adding that annexation was officially put on the back burner months ago.
Zeidan, Naser, and Siyam all expressed the same sentiment: the UAE taking credit for halting annexation is a farce.
“It’s disheartening that the UAE used annexation as a cover for their normalisation actions,” Siyam told MEE. “They are trying to show that they are supporting Palestine through this deal, but we see through that.
“We know that is not the case. The UAE have given Trump and Netanyahu a gift today with these agreements, to help boost their political agendas,” he said.
“Trump is using this success for his election campaign, and Netanyahu is using it to further his policies in the occupied territories,” Siyam continued. “Since he halted official annexation back in July, Netanyahu has been under immense pressure from the Israeli right wing, so this agreement is helping pull him above water.”
Naser pointed out that annexation was never officially announced as planned on 1 July because of mounting international pressure, threats to condition aid to Israel from US congress members, and because of the stance of Palestinian citizens and their leaders.
“We put this pressure on Israel and America to stop annexation, with the help of the international community,” he said. “The Emirates did nothing. We will not let them use this as an excuse to cover their shame.”
Naser recalled the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which offers widespread recognition of Israel in return for it retreating to its 1967 borders and addressing the issue of Palestinian refugees.
“As part of the Arab Peace Initiative, normalisation with Israel was supposed to be the last step of the process,” he said.
“First, Palestinians should have their rights protected, their borders and land returned, their freedom, and then comes normalisation. Not the other way around.”
Across the board, Palestinian activists and community leaders agree that the agreement between Israel and the UAE sets a dangerous precedent in the region, and internationally.
While Jordan, Egypt, and now the UAE are the only Arab countries to have official diplomatic relations with Israel, Palestinians believe this new agreement will pave the way for other countries in the region to follow suit.
“This agreement is dangerous, because it legitimises the occupation from an international standpoint,” Zeidan told MEE.
“When people see that Arab countries have started signing deals with Israel, it will make it harder to pressure Israel to end its human rights violations in the occupied territories.”
While the agreement will likely not change things on the ground immediately, it will inevitably serve as a detriment to the Palestinian cause in the long term, Naser told MEE.
“The support for our cause and liberation will inevitably go down among Arab states,” Naser said. “Today, leaders like MBZ [Mohammed bin Zayed] and MBS [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] are betraying the policies of their grandfathers who supported Palestine. And eventually other countries are going to follow the Emirates.”
Despite the seemingly bleak future, and the possibility of regional normalisation with Israel, Palestinians say they are still hopeful that support for their cause will be taken up by people around the world.
“Despite the support of Gulf states for Israel, we have seen time and time again that the Arab people still support Palestinians and our struggle for freedom,” Siyam told MEE.
“Even if we do not have the support of their leaders, we hope that people around the world will continue to stand up for human rights, and put pressure on Israel to end the occupation.”
Akram al-Waara is a Palestinian freelance video journalist based out of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank