Palestinians in the Gaza Strip burned a picture of Bahrain’s ruler on Saturday in protest of the Gulf kingdom’s decision to normalize diplomatic ties with Israel.
Photos showed a small group of Palestinians in the central Gaza city of Deir al-Balah lighting a poster of Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on fire during a demonstration organized by Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza.
The group also burned posters with crossed out photos of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as US President Donald Trump, who helped broker the normalization deal; along with a poster that had a picture of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Dubai ruler Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum — in protest of the United Arab Emirates’ decision last month to normalize relations with Israel.
“We have to fight the virus of normalization and block all its paths before it succeeds, to prevent it from spreading,” Hamas official Maher al-Kholy was quoted saying by Reuters.
Hamas, which avowedly seeks Israel’s destruction, denounced Friday’s announcement of the normalization agreement as an “aggression” that dealt “serious prejudice” to the Palestinian cause.
The deal was also strongly condemned by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.
While the Palestinian cause has long united Middle East nations with divergent interests, the Palestinians are increasingly isolated and in need of new friends amid shifting regional alliances, analysts told AFP.
Bahrain’s breaking of ranks marked the latest blow to the Palestinians, and anger was swift.
The deal was “a stab in the back of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people” like the UAE-Israel deal announced last month, a top PA official said.
At a summit of the 22-member Arab League this week, foreign ministers failed to back a Palestinian push to condemn last month’s US-brokered normalization deal between Israel and the UAE.
“May you never be sold out by your ‘friends,'” read one bitter tweet by senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi after the UAE-Israel deal was announced in August.
With the accords set to be signed on Tuesday at the White House, the Emirates will become only the third Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan decades ago, to establish full relations with the Jewish state, while Bahrain will become the fourth.
The UAE has championed its move in part as a way of halting Netanyahu’s proposed annexation of parts of the West Bank.
Washington said the Israel-UAE deal “suspended” those annexation plans — though Netanyahu has insisted they are not off the table in the long run.
Despite this, the Palestinians’ traditional Arab allies have either welcomed or silently endorsed the normalization, with the US and Israel voicing hope more Arab states would follow suit.
‘Deteriorating Arab unity’
“The leadership is very upset,” said Sari Nusseibeh, a former top official with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
“But I don’t think they are more upset than in the past about the Arab world in general. Palestinians have always complained that the Arab world has not stood behind them as they should have.”
The Palestinian cause had already become less central as the region has been rocked by the Arab Spring upheavals, the Syria war and the bloody reign of the Islamic State jihadist group.
At the same time, hostility has deepened between US ally Saudi Arabia and Iran, its Shiite Muslim rival which supports proxy forces from Syria to Lebanon.
“There have been all kinds of problems in the Arab world — disputes, revolutions, civil wars, tensions between different Arab countries,” said Palestinian academic and analyst Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian government minister.
“Palestinians are now paying the price for the deterioration in Arab unity.”
Ramallah maintains the validity of the so-called “Arab consensus” and rejects the notion that it is isolated.
That consensus has long held that Arab states will only normalize ties if Israel meets a number of conditions.
One demand is for Israel to withdraw from the territories it captured in the Six Day War of 1967.
Another is to agree to a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a third to find a solution for the millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants around the world.
“We hope that the Arab countries will remain committed to this consensus,” said Jibril Rajoub, a senior Palestinian official, adding that straying from it “will lead to nothing.”
“Those who are violating the Arab consensus… will be isolated” in the long term, he asserted.
One Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, shared the view that at the moment “the Palestinians don’t really have a way out, they are stuck.”
He added that the fact that some of the Palestinians’ chief supporters were Iran and Turkey, both at odds with Arab powers, was not doing Ramallah any favors.
Iran already has relations with Islamist terror groups in Gaza, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and cooler ties with the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian cause has also received backing from Turkey, a regional power increasingly at odds with Israel and which militarily backs a rival faction in the Libya war to the UAE and Egypt.
“Turkey does have an ambition to lead this cause and is pointing to the hypocrisy of both Arab states and the West for not emphasizing this issue enough,” said Gallia Lindenstrauss of Israel’s National Institute for Security Research.
Analyst Khatib argued the Palestinians should keep their distance from Turkey, Iran and also Qatar, which is deeply at odds with other major Gulf powers.
“It’s not wise for the Palestinians to be caught within the regional tensions and competition between regional superpowers,” he said.
“If you side with Iran, you’ll lose Saudi Arabia. If you side with Turkey, you’ll lose someone else.