At Arab League summit, frustrated Palestinians call for condemnation of UAE deal

Most Arab FMs do not mention UAE-Israel normalization, as secretary general says the council respects both ‘sovereign foreign policy decisions’ and the Palestinian cause

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki calls on the Arab League to condemn normalization between the United Arab Emirates and Israel on September 9, 2020 (Screenshot: WAFA)
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki calls on the Arab League to condemn normalization between the United Arab Emirates and Israel on September 9, 2020 (Screenshot: WAFA)

At a Wednesday meeting of the Arab League, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki railed against the body’s failure to strongly rebuff Israel and put Palestinians first, calling on the organization to condemn the normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

“This meeting must release a decision rejecting this step. Otherwise, we will be seen as giving it our blessing, or conspiring with it, or attempting to cover it up,” al-Maliki said.

Such a condemnation seemed unlikely, however, given that several Arab states — such as Egypt and Bahrain — have expressed public or tacit support for the deal, which is to due to be signed next week in Washington. And while Palestinian officials had originally called for an emergency meeting of the pan-Arab body against the deal, they said they were told to wait until this Wednesday, when a regular meeting had already been scheduled.

Palestinian politicians condemned the deal as soon as it was announced in mid-August by US President Donald Trump, with many calling it “a stab in the back” by an Arab ally. Palestinian Liberation Organization chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that if Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit could not condemn the treaty, he ought to resign.

But while Aboul Gheit released a statement reaffirming the League’s support for the Arab Peace Initiative, no condemnation of the UAE-Israel normalization pact was forthcoming.

The 2002 Saudi-led initiative conditions normalization with Israel on a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki attends the opening session of the Arab foreign ministers meeting ahead of the Arab Summit, in Tunis, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Al-Maliki said that the PA had applied for an emergency meeting of the Arab League following the announcement of the normalization deal.

“Does an earthquake not demand an emergency meeting?” he asked rhetorically.

While the League has acceded to Palestinian requests for emergency meetings in the past — such as when the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem — al-Maliki said this time, the PA was told to wait until the next scheduled meeting of the body.

“Words cannot explain the lack of adherence and implementation of [the League’s] decisions related to Palestine…There is no commitment to decisions taken and no respect for them,” al-Maliki said.

Palestinian officials appear to have sought to balance condemning the normalization deal with the need to maintain their ties with Arab states who have either backed or failed to condemn the deal.

A spokesperson for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday that the state of Palestine sought to “maintain brotherly relations with all Arab countries on the basis of mutual respect, with the latter necessitating adherence to the Arab Peace Initiative.”

On Tuesday night, Reuters reported that the Palestinians were set to soften their stance at the League and present a resolution which would affirm that the UAE-Israel normalization treaty “doesn’t diminish Arab consensus over the Palestinian cause… the Palestinian cause is the cause of the entire Arab nation.”

Perhaps for that reason, al-Maliki’s Wednesday speech contained harsh criticism of what he called hypocrisy by Arab states — but without naming names. He said that Palestinian officials constantly heard from third parties about Arab officials paying lip service to the Palestinian cause in public while conducting relations with Israel in private.

“[Other countries] would confirm to us that [Arab League] decisions were nothing more than ink on paper to mollify the Palestinians. It puts us in an embarrassing position,” al-Maliki concluded.

None of the other Arab foreign ministers saw fit to mention the recent normalization deal in their statements, although Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan reaffirmed Saudi support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Arab League Secretary General Aboul Gheit said on Wednesday that the Arab League would consider a resolution during the summit which “would not deviate” from its support for the Palestinian cause.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, July 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

“It is the indisputable right of each country to have sovereignty in conducting its foreign policy in the way it sees fit. This is something that this council respects and approves. At the same time, we hold certain values as principles of consensus,” Aboul Gheit said, without specifying what those were.

UAE officials, such as Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash, have emphasized that their decision to normalize with Israel was a “sovereign” decision made in accordance with the UAE’s strategic interests.

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