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Palestinians relinquish Arab League chairmanship in protest of normalization

Ramallah ultimately decides to remain in organization, after publicly threatening to withdraw altogether over its refusal to condemn UAE, Bahrain

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki at a press conference on Tuesday, September 22, 2020 (WAFA)
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki at a press conference on Tuesday, September 22, 2020 (WAFA)

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki said Tuesday that the PA will relinquish its role as temporary chairman of the current round of Arab League meetings in protest of the League’s refusal to condemn normalization with Israel.

“I inform you today that the State of Palestine is relinquishing its chairmanship in this accursed round of meetings,” al-Maliki said on Tuesday. “Palestine refuses to record in its history that it presided over the moral degeneracy that was revealed in the last meeting…and the normalization steps that followed it, which were in essence a rejection of the work we did between the walls of the Arab League.”

Under Arab League rules, the PA would have continued to chair meetings for another six months.

Ramallah previously indicated it could leave or suspend its membership in the pan-Arab body after the League rejected a Palestinian resolution to condemn the United Arab Emirates for establishing open ties with Israel.

The condemnation was deemed unlikely to pass from the start, as several Arab countries had publicly praised the normalization accords. But the predictability of its demise did little to lessen what many saw as a serious blow to Palestinian diplomacy — a betrayal of the Palestinians’ cause by an organization that had long championed their right to a state. Only a few days after the resolution failed, Bahrain announced that it would normalize ties with Israel as well.

For years, Palestinians have relied on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, a Saudi-led peace plan backed by the Arab League. The Initiative offers full normalization between Israel and the Arab states — but only after the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Following the vote, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit denied that the resolution impacted the Arab states’ commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) and Palestine Liberation Organisztion (PLO) Secretary-General Saeb Erekat (C) look on as Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit (L) reads a statement during an Arab League emergency meeting discussing the US-brokered proposal for a settlement of the Middle East conflict, at the league headquarters in the Egyptian capital Cairo on February 1, 2020 (Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

“The Arab consensus on Palestine has not changed,” Aboul Gheit said.

But then he hedged: “Now, it’s true that there is an Arab dispute over some of the concepts related to peace with Israel.”

At the time, senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh called the Arab League’s failure to condemn the normalization deal “the triumph of money over dignity.”

“The Arab League has not produced anything. It has given the entire region condemnations of everyone ad nauseum — except for Israel. This is a thunderous collapse, the use of ‘national sovereignty’ to justify subservience,” al-Sheikh said.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas ordered a review of Palestinian membership in the organization in the aftermath of the resolution’s failure.

At a mid-September cabinet meeting, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said that Ramallah was reviewing ways to “correct its relationship with the League.”

“The Arab League has become a symbol of Arab powerlessness,” Shtayyeh said, without elaborating on what steps would be taken.

A few days later, however, veteran diplomat Saeb Erekat announced on Twitter that Palestine would not withdraw from the Arab League after all.

Al-Maliki explained on Tuesday that the Palestinian response stemmed from a desire to avoid creating a “vacuum” that would generate “different scenarios that we do not need right now in this stage.”

Still, al-Maliki admitted that it seemed unlikely the PA could force the Arab League to condemn normalization in the near future — even though it was remaining in the organization.

“Until now, we don’t see any way to change the circumstances so as to condemn the abandoning of the Arab consensus” on normalization, al-Maliki said.

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