UAE committed to Palestinian state, Arab Peace Initiative, spokeswoman tells ToI
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UAE committed to Palestinian state, Arab Peace Initiative, spokeswoman tells ToI

Foreign Ministry’s Hend al-Otaiba also notes suspension of ‘Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories’ paved way to establishment of UAE-Israel bilateral relations

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

In this December 4, 2016 file photo, released by Emirates News Agency, WAM, Saudi King Salman, second left, attends the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival while seated next to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE prime minister and ruler, left, and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, second right, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Emirates News Agency via AP)
In this December 4, 2016 file photo, released by Emirates News Agency, WAM, Saudi King Salman, second left, attends the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival while seated next to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE prime minister and ruler, left, and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, second right, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Emirates News Agency via AP)

The United Arab Emirates remains committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state and to the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative, a senior official from the Arab Gulf state told The Times of Israel on Thursday, in rare on-the-record remarks to Israeli media.

Hend al-Otaiba, the director of strategic communications at the UAE’s Foreign Ministry, was commenting hours after the UAE’s agreement to fully normalized relations with Israel was announced, and shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he still eventually intended to extend Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank.

She indicated that the suspension of Netanyahu’s annexation plan paved the way to Thursday’s breakthrough deal. “The UAE, US and Israel have agreed on suspending Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories in order to establish bilateral relations towards a stable and peaceful region via dialogue and diplomacy,” she said.

UAE Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hend al-Otaiba (Twitter)

“The UAE is committed to the Arab Peace Initiative and the rights of the Palestinian people for an independent state in peaceful coexistence with the state of Israel,” she added.

First adopted by the Arab League in 2002, the Arab Peace Initiative calls for full diplomatic ties between Israel and the entire Arab and Muslim world in exchange for a “full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967,” the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the Palestinian refugee question.

Asked for clarification of the UAE’s position on the Arab Peace Initiative, a spokesperson subsequently replied: “A two-state solution is at the heart of the Arab Peace Initiative. In the absence of a freeze on annexation, a two-state solution will quickly cease to be a possibility.”

Abu Dhabi remains committed to the “outcomes” of the Arab Peace Initiative, “and sees today’s agreement with the US and Israel as quite possibly the last channel through which to achieve those outcomes,” the spokesperson added.

Earlier on Thursday, the UAE, Israel and the US issued a joint statement announcing an agreement on “the full normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.” The Emirates presented the move, which was bitterly rejected by the Palestinian Authority, as an achievement for West Bank Palestinians, in that it halts Israel’s plans to annex parts of the territory.

The UAE’s de facto ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, issued a statement that led with the sides reaching an agreement “to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories,” and only then added that the sides “also agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship.”

The nation’s minister of state of foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, also stressed that Israel is “freezing the decision to annex the Palestinian territories,” characterizing it as “a great achievement for the future of the region, its people, and the world,” only then acknowledging that “the UAE is employing its decision for normal relations with Israel.”

The country was doing so “With courageous initiative, to preserve the chances of a two-state solution,” Gargash said, adding that the nation “calls for the resumption of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis, and is committed to working with friends to establish security and ensure the stability of the region.”

The Gulf country’s ambassador the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, said the Palestinians, too, need to benefit from the agreement, emphasizing that Abu Dhabi would continue to push for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“The UAE will remain a strong supporter of the Palestinian people — for their dignity, their rights and their own sovereign state,” al-Otaiba said in a statement. “They must benefit too in normalization. As we have for fifty years, we will forcefully advocate for these ends, now directly and bolstered with stronger incentives, policy options and diplomatic tools.”

Mohammad Issa Abu Shehab, UAE ambassador to the EU, told Emirates TV the step was most important for its success in “freezing all Israeli plans for Palestinian land.”

However, a senior Israeli official said Netanyahu’s annexation plan was only “temporarily suspended” to allow for the signing of the agreement with the Emirates.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discusses the agreement for Israel and the UAE to establish diplomatic relations, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on August 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Netanyahu himself later insisted during a press conference that annexation remained on the table, though he acknowledged that Trump had asked that the move be put on “temporary hold” for now.

“I said I would extend sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. There is no change in my plan to extend our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria with full coordination with the United States,” he said. “I am committed to that, and it hasn’t changed. The issue remains on the table. I’m the one who put it on the table… I will never compromise on our rights in our land.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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