‘Ali Baba and the 40 thieves: UAE FM lashes out at top PA official over alleged corruption

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, front left, attends a meeting with Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Hussein al-Sheikh, during a day of meetings about the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas, in Amman, Jordan, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool photo via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, front left, attends a meeting with Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Hussein al-Sheikh, during a day of meetings about the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas, in Amman, Jordan, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool photo via AP)

A meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a group of Arab counterparts in Riyadh in late April deteriorated into a shouting match between the foreign minister of the UAE and a senior Palestinian official, a source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.

Confirming reporting in the Axios news site, the source recalled how Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said during the meeting that there was no real reform in the Palestinian Authority, accused the Palestinian leadership of being “Ali Baba and the 40 thieves” and said all of the PA leadership is “useless.” Bin Zayed went further, asking why the UAE would want to provide funding to such a body.

“His Highness added that if the Palestinian Authority paid as much attention to its own people as it does to security coordination with Israel the Palestinians will be in much better shape,” an Emirati official told Axios — a particularly low blow, given that the PA has long come under fire domestically for its security cooperation with Israel but usually receives praise for it from the US and the rest of the international community.

Palestinian Liberation Organization Executive Committee secretary general Hussein al-Sheikh, a close aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, shot back that nobody could dictate to the PA how to conduct its reforms.

The sides both stormed out of the room in anger and later returned to apologize to Blinken for arguing in his presence, according to the source.

The PA has long had a rocky relationship with the UAE, particularly since Abu Dhabi normalized ties with Israel in 2020. The personal relationship between Abbas and Emirati President Mohammed bin Zayed is widely known to be chilly.

But the source familiar with the matter said anger with the PA and Abbas stems well beyond just the UAE, with the majority of the other countries present at the meeting — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar — all increasingly losing their patience with Ramallah.

The feeling among many of those present in the meeting was that Abbas has not been willing to institute the significant reforms that are necessary in order to reform the PA so that it can return to governing Gaza and advance a two-state solution.

The frustration with Abbas extends to Qatar who wanted him to appoint a prime minister who would have support within Palestinian society, including the Islamist sectors. This message was passed along by Qatar’s emir during Abbas’s visit to the country in February. However, Abbas ultimately snubbed the emir and appointed a close confidant, Mohammed Mustafa, whose public support is rather limited.

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