Are the PA and UAE on the path to reconciliation?

Palestinian Authority General Intelligence Service head Maged Faraj to Dubai has sparked speculation that the UAE and PA may be mending fences.

A 1999 PHOTO of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, with his traditionally dressed daughters, Sheikha Latifa (left) and Sheikha Mariam.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A 1999 PHOTO of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, with his traditionally dressed daughters, Sheikha Latifa (left) and Sheikha Mariam.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

A surprise visit to Dubai last week by the head of the Palestinian Authority’s General Intelligence Service Majed Faraj has sparked speculation that the two sides are close to mending their fences.

Faraj was the first senior PA official to visit the Gulf state since the signing of the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates last year.

Palestinian sources said that Faraj traveled to the UAE to visit Expo 2020 Dubai, a universal exhibition held from October 1 to March 2022 with the participation of 200 countries, including Israel and the Palestinians.

According to the sources, the visit does not indicate that the PA intends to publicly endorse the normalization agreements between Israel and some Arab countries, including the UAE.

During the visit, Faraj met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Makhtoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, who toured the Palestinian pavilion at the exhibition.

 The sign of Dubai Expo 2020 is seen at the entrance of the site in Dubai, United Arab Emirates January 16, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/RULA ROUHANA ) The sign of Dubai Expo 2020 is seen at the entrance of the site in Dubai, United Arab Emirates January 16, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/RULA ROUHANA )

“I was honored to visit the Palestinian pavilion at Dubai 2020 Expo, where Palestinian culture, history and holy sites were present,” Makhtoum wrote on Twitter. “When Palestine is present, beauty is present and history writes its presence.”

Makhtoum did not mention the meeting with the Palestinian official.

The UAE news agency WAM, which reported the meeting, did not provide any details about the encounter. The agency described Faraj as “special envoy to President Mahmoud Abbas.”

Faraj, who has strong relations with Israel and the US, is seen by some Palestinians as a possible candidate to succeed the PA president.

 

THE PA decision to participate in the Expo 2020 Dubai exhibition came as a surprise to many Palestinians, especially in light of statements by senior Palestinian officials in favor of boycotting the event.

Palestinians were further surprised by the decision to dispatch the intelligence chief to the exhibition.  

“Why would you send the head of the intelligence service to such an event?” asked Palestinian political activist Nidal Hamed. “If the head of the intelligence service is sent to hold talks with world leaders, this is a sign that something is being cooked up behind closed doors.”

Hamed and other political analysts pointed out that Faraj’s visit came amid a severe financial crisis in the PA. They said that the Palestinian leadership was hoping that the UAE and other Arab countries would resume financial aid to the PA.

A senior PA official in Ramallah expressed hope that the visit would mark “the beginning of a new era in relations between the Palestinians and the United Arab Emirates.”

Last year, the Palestinian leadership strongly condemned the Israel-UAE normalization deal, calling it a betrayal of al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem and the Palestinian cause.

“This is an aggression against the Palestinian people and a blow to the Arab peace initiative and the decisions of the Arab and Islamic summits and international legitimacy,” said PA presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudaineh.

The PA briefly withdrew its ambassador to the UAE to protest the normalization agreement.

Relations between the two sides were further strained when Palestinians protesting the normalization accord burned Emirati flags and pictures of Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed.

Recently, Palestinian officials and factions condemned the opening of the UAE embassy in Tel Aviv and called for an end to Arab normalization with Israel.

 

BUT RELATIONS between the PA and the UAE have been tense for nearly a decade, mainly due to the Gulf state’s decision to host Mohammed Dahlan, a former Palestinian security commander and outspoken critic of the 85-year-old president.

Dahlan was forced to flee the West Bank after a fall out with Abbas and other senior officials of the ruling Fatah faction.

After settling in the UAE, Dahlan, who was later expelled from Fatah, formed an opposition group called the Democratic Reform Current.

Reports in some Arab media outlets have referred to Dahlan as a special adviser to the ruler of the UAE.

Sources close to Abbas have claimed over the past few years that Dahlan was working to undermine the PA leadership with the hope of becoming the next president.

According to the sources, Dahlan’s alleged scheme was backed by the UAE and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

In the past few years, Palestinian security forces have arrested scores of Palestinians in the West Bank on suspicion of being affiliated with or funded by Dahlan.

The sources pointed out that Dahlan is wanted by the PA for his role in rampant financial corruption. He has repeatedly denied the charges.

Faraj’s visit to the UAE coincided with unconfirmed reports in the Arab media of tensions between Dahlan and the crown prince.

According to some reports, Dahlan is considering moving to Cairo after his alleged fall from grace.

A source close to Dahlan on Saturday denied that the exiled Palestinian official has been placed under house arrest in Abu Dhabi.

The source also played down the significance of Faraj’s visit to Dubai, saying it would have no impact on close ties between Dahlan and the ruler of the UAE.

“We welcome any rapprochement between the Palestinians and the Gulf states, particularly the United Arab Emirates, which has always supported our people and the Palestinian cause,” the source said.

What is evident, meanwhile, is that Dahlan has been keeping a low profile in recent weeks, adding fuel to speculation that the honeymoon between him and the UAE crown prince has effectively ended.

Some Palestinians believe that the Emirates may have decided to abandon Dahlan at the request of Israel and the US as part of a policy that aims to strengthen Abbas and the PA leadership.

If true, the reports about a crisis between Dahlan and the UAE mean that Abbas has succeeded in “neutralizing” one of his most dangerous rivals.