Senior Palestinian officials lamented the signing of normalization agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain on Tuesday afternoon, but could muster only scattered protests of several hundred people in several parts of the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s office said peace in the Middle East could not succeed without an Israeli-Palestinian accord, in his first response to the Abraham Accords ceremony in Washington that saw the signing of a full peace treaty between Israel and the UAE, and a Declaration of Peace between Israel and Bahrain.
“The main problem is not between the countries that signed the agreements and the Israeli occupation authority, but with the Palestinian people who are suffering under occupation,” Abbas said in a statement carried by the official Palestinian Authority WAFA news agency.
“The leadership warned, once again, that no peace, security or stability will be achieved for anyone in the region without ending the occupation and the Palestinian people achieving their full rights as stipulated in the international legitimacy resolutions,” Abbas said.
The Palestinian leadership, both in Fatah and its rival Hamas, have attacked the UAE and Bahrain deals from the start as acts of betrayal and a “dagger in the back. The UAE, for its part, has stressed that it negotiated an indefinite suspension of Israel’s annexation plans, and urged the Palestinians to reopen talks with Israel.
A coalition representing a wide swath of Palestinian factions — including both Fatah and Hamas — called for a “day of Intifada-like rejection” of the normalization deal on Tuesday. In response, several demonstrations were held across the West Bank and Gaza, each numbering a few hundred.
A visit by The Times of Israel to al-Manara Circle in Ramallah found about 200 demonstrators clustered in half of the city’s central interchange. Traffic wound its way around the protesters, some of whom held signs calling normalization a crime.
“The truth is, I never thought it would ever be this bad. I never thought we’d lose what we had left of Arab unity,” said Rashid, a former member of the Baathist Pan-Arab socialist party. Graying at the temples, he added that he had hoped more of the young generation of Palestinians would turn out for the protest.
“It’s for them, the young generation, that I’m out here,” he said. “They’ll come, slowly. This is just the start. But I imagine people have work, and coronavirus, and it’s hot.”
Other demonstrators to whom The Times of Israel spoke on the scene said that they had expected far more people to attend the Ramallah protest.
Palestinian officials said they were especially outraged by what they called an abandonment of the two-state solution by the diplomats on the White House Lawn on Tuesday afternoon.
According to Palestinian Liberation Organization senior negotiator Saeb Erekat, the normalization agreements were tantamount to signing off on Trump’s controversial peace plan, known in Arabic media as “The Deal of the Century.”
Trump’s plan allocates some 30 percent of the West Bank to Israel and conditionally envisions a Palestinian state in the remaining territory with land swaps from inside Israel; it gives the Palestinians a capital only in minor east Jerusalem areas outside the security barrier. The Palestinian Authority, which refuses to deal with Trump Administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, has condemned the agreement for violating what it calls their right to a state based on the 1967 lines with its capital in East Jerusalem.
“They never mentioned the 1967 borders. I know the White House, and this is the height of the campaign season. There isn’t a word of this which wasn’t precisely specified by the Americans,” Erekat said.
Other Palestinian officials celebrated what they deemed a small victory: only a few Arab states attended the event and the majority of European states stayed home as well.
“The international absence from attending the agreement’s signing… is evidence of the world’s belief in the necessity of resolving the conflict in accordance with international law,” said Fatah Secretary General Jibril Rajoub, who called the accord “a disgrace.”
Israelis listening to the broadcast of the historic ceremony found their TV sets and radios suddenly announcing that rocket sirens had gone off in Ashkelon and Ashdod.
Two rockets had been fired from the Gaza Strip during the ceremony. One was shot down by Israel; the second landed in a street in Ashdod.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service said one man, 62, was moderately injured, sustaining shrapnel wounds to his upper body from the rocket. A second man, 28, suffered light injuries to his extremities from broken glass. Four other people suffered anxiety attacks as a result of the apparent rocket fire, medics said.
The Hamas terror group appeared to claim responsibility for the rocket fire, indicating in a statement released that it was in response to the normalization agreements with Abu Dhabi and Manama.
“The normalization agreements between Bahrain, the UAE, and the Zionist entity are not worth the paper they were written on,” said Hamas, which avowedly seeks to destroy Israel. “Our people insists on continuing its struggle until it secures the return of all [of] its rights.”
Palestinian Islamic Jihad commented on the rocket fire some hours later.
“The Gaza rockets are a message that this great vanity of the United States and Israel will be shattered by the Palestinians and that the final word is for those in the right,” senior Islamic Jihad official Mohammad al-Hindi said.
In an interview with Sky News on Tuesday night, Hussam Zomlot, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to England, called the rockets “a media stunt” by Israel.
Absent from the torrent of condemnations was former Fatah security chief Mohammad Dahlan and his breakaway Democratic Reform Current. Dahlan, who now resides in Abu Dhabi and is said to have become a top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Zayed, was rumored to be involved in the UAE’s decision to normalize relations with Israel.
A source in Dahlan’s movement told The Times of Israel on Monday that while they were opposed to normalization on principle, they respected the sovereign decisions of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
“We do not interfere with the sovereign decisions of Arab countries…and we respect the decisions of these countries. If we oppose them, we express our opposition behind closed doors,” the source said. “As for the Emirates, we are the guests of that generous and noble country which has hosted our faction since we left Fatah in 2011.”
The source denied that Dahlan’s movement had been involved in the deal, emphasizing that they were committed to the Arab Peace Initiative.
“Our response was balanced and rational. We did not call them traitors, but rather expressed our observations on the step: that it would bring no benefits. At the same time, we respect that the UAE will utilize any relations with Israel in the future in service of the Palestinian people,” the source said.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.