PA alarmed by UAE intervention in Palestinian internal affairs

In the past few years, PA officials have privately accused the UAE of meddling in Palestinian internal affairs and acting contrary to Arab League resolutions.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a leadership meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank May 19, 2020 (photo credit: ALAA BADARNEH/POOL VIA REUTERS)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a leadership meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank May 19, 2020
Unlike many Palestinian parties, the Palestinian Authority has avoided commenting on an article published last week by United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, in Yediot Aharonot.
The PA’s silence, however, does not mean that it condones the ambassador’s statements. In the past few years, PA officials have privately accused the UAE of meddling in Palestinian internal affairs and acting contrary to Arab League resolutions by advancing normalization with Israel.
Referring to Israeli intentions to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, Al Otaiba warned that the move would harm efforts to normalize relations between Israel and the Arab world.
“Annexation will certainly and immediately upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and with UAE,” he wrote. “Normal is not annexation. Instead, annexation is a misguided provocation of another order. And continued talk of normalization would be just mistaken hope for better relations with the Arab states.”
Several Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, strongly condemned the UAE ambassador’s statements, accusing him of “beseeching” Israel to normalize its relations with the Arab states.
The PA, for its part, refrained from joining the chorus of critics as part of its long-standing policy of avoiding public criticism of Arab countries and leaders.
The PA has further been careful not to attack the UAE over the delivery of humanitarian and medical aid to Palestinians through Ben-Gurion Airport. Two cargo planes made a direct flight from Abu Dhabi to Israel recently to deliver the aid, drawing widespread condemnations from Palestinians, who accused the UAE of promoting normalization with Israel.
The PA’s response, nonetheless, was more restrained. Avoiding direct criticism of the UAE, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said that the Palestinians were “unaware” of the delivery of the aid, adding that the Gulf state had not coordinated the move with the PA government.
In private, however, PA officials have expressed deep concern over the apparent rapprochement between the UAE and Israel in the past few years.
“The UAE has long been spearheading Arab normalization with Israel,” said a senior PA official. “This is in violation of the [2002] Arab Peace Initiative, which states that the Arab countries would normalize relations with Israel only after a full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967.”
BUT RELATIONS between the PA and UAE have been strained long before the Gulf state’s alleged engagement in normalization with Israel. In fact, the crisis began in 2011, when the UAE welcomed and embraced deposed Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan, an arch-rival of Mahmoud Abbas who has been touted as a potential successor to the PA president.
Dahlan, a former PA security commander in the Gaza Strip and erstwhile ally of Abbas, has been residing in the UAE since he was forced to flee the West Bank after falling out with the PA president and his sons. According to some reports, Dahlan serves as a special adviser to UAE’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Palestinian officials hold Dahlan responsible for the change in UAE policy toward the PA and Abbas. Some officials also believe that Dahlan has been working behind the scenes to bring the UAE closer to Israel.
“It’s no secret that the UAE rulers don’t like the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas,” one official told The Jerusalem Post. “Obviously, Dahlan incited the rulers of UAE against the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas.”
The official claimed that the two UAE cargo shipments delivered to the Palestinians through Israel were part of a “plot” by Dahlan and Abu Dhabi to embarrass the PA leadership.
“It’s a clear setup designed to make the Palestinian leadership appear as if it rejects medical and humanitarian aid from an Arab state,” the official said. “If the UAE really wanted to deliver the aid to the Palestinians, why didn’t it contact the Palestinian government or the Palestinian ambassador in Abu Dhabi?”
Palestinian political analysts believe that the UAE is using Dahlan in the context of its efforts to compete with Qatar over seeking increased influence in the Palestinian arena.
On June 5, 2017, the UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain severed ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood organization. Hamas, an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, has long been supported by Qatar, which plays host to several Hamas leaders.
In recent years, Qatar has also been acting as a mediator between Hamas and Israel, which has allowed the Qataris to deliver cash payments to Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave, much to the dismay of the PA leadership.
“There’s a competition between Qatar and the UAE over the Palestinian issue,” said political analyst Ibrahim Madhoun. “The two countries have long been meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians, each for its own reasons. The Qataris support Hamas, while Abu Dhabi is trying to promote Mohammed Dahlan as the next Palestinian president.”
According to a PA security source, the UAE has been providing financial aid to Dahlan to assist him in establishing “centers of power” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“Dahlan has hundreds of Palestinians on his payroll,” the source told the Post. “He’s also involved with many charitable organizations operating in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. The UAE is not doing this out of love for the Palestinians, but in order to replace the current Palestinian leadership with someone they have control over.”
Dahlan loyalists have defended the UAE and dismissed allegations that the Gulf state was meddling in Palestinian internal affairs. The loyalists claimed that the UAE’s support for the Palestinian people was “sincere” and “unconditional.” They also pointed out that the UAE has granted the Palestinians more than $2 billion in aid since the establishment of the PA in 1994.
“We don’t deny the UAE’s important role in helping the Palestinians,” said a PLO official. “We respect all the Arab countries and don’t meddle in their internal affairs. As such, we expect them too not to meddle in Palestinian internal affairs. If the UAE is helping us because it wants to undermine the legitimate leadership of the Palestinians or support a certain figure, then it needs to reconsider its policies.”