A UAE official pushed back on that assertion. “The UAE has been for decades a steadfast advocate for the Palestinian cause, their rights to dignity and self-determination,” said Omar Ghobash, the UAE assistant minister of public diplomacy.
“For the last few months since annexation was announced, and up until our agreement to establish direct ties with Israel, there was no hope of a two state solution. Our agreement has put that back on the table,” he said.
The starkly different viewpoints of Ashrawi and Ghobash, who spoke to The Washington Post in separate interviews, reflect a growing divide over the Palestinians as the UAE becomes only the third Arab country to currently have diplomatic relations with Israel.
President Trump praised the U.S.-brokered agreement as “a significant step towards building a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous Middle East.”
“Now that the ice has been broken, I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead,” he said.
But reactions across the region the have ranged from approval to harsh dismissal.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani called the deal a “betrayal of the Palestinian cause,” and said the Emiratis were wrong to think it would improve their security and help grow their economy.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters last week that “the move against Palestine is not a step that can be stomached.”
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Faisal bin Farhan, responded cautiously Wednesday, saying that “any efforts that could promote peace in the region and that result in holding back the threat of annexation could be viewed as positive.”
Egypt, Bahrain and Oman have issued official statements supporting the pact.
The reactions point to a shift in the regional political dynamics in the Middle East, where supporting the Palestinians had long been one of the few uniformly backed issues.
Ghobash insisted his country’s motives were centered on getting Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians.
“We have an understanding with both the Israelis and the United States that annexation is now off the table,” he said. “How the Palestinians and Israelis choose to work towards a permanent peace agreement and accord between them is up to them. We urge our Palestinian brethren to take this opportunity to move the Palestinian cause further to resolution, as we urge the Israelis to engage for peace.”
Ghobash said Trump and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and a senior adviser, had a “critical” role in putting the agreement together, but he denied that they brokered the deal, saying the three parties — Israel, the UAE and the United States — all had a part.
Ashrawi attacked the agreement as a political gift to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing a trial on corruption charges, and Trump, who is dealing with social unrest and a reelection campaign. Both leaders have been criticized for their administration’s handling of the coronavirus.
“And they said they did this for the sake of peace, for the sake of Palestine, in order to keep for us whatever little land is left,” Ashrawi said.
In the lead-up to the agreement, an opinion piece by the UAE’s ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, apparently was instrumental.
After Netanyahu decided to try to annex more of the West Bank, Arab and many European countries voiced their opposed, saying it could jeopardize the chance for peace in the region.
But Otaiba realized there might be an opportunity, according to Haim Saban, a media executive and the ambassador’s friend.
Israel and the UAE had long cooperated on security issues, according to people familiar with the issue, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
Otaiba decided to write an opinion piece warning that annexation would “reverse all of the Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and the United Arab Emirates,” with the headline “It’s Either Annexation or Normalization.”
“I said why don’t you speak directly to the Israelis about this, in Hebrew?” Saban said in an interview, adding that he suggested an Israeli media outlet and reviewed the article.
“The opinion piece not only created an impact, but created a snowball that, as it got rolling down the mountain got bigger and bigger,” he said.
Netanyahu and a small circle of people coordinated direct talks with UAE officials via Kushner after Otaiba’s piece was published, according to two Israeli officials familiar with the events.
Ashrawi said the UAE did not even contact the Palestinian government before announcing the agreement, under which the UAE and Israel would increase their cooperation in several critical areas, including security, technology, trade and education.
Egypt and Jordan, which both recognized Israel’s right to exist decades ago, are also urging the Palestinians to restart peace negotiations. But Ashrawi said UAE’s agreement would make it more difficult to bargain with the Israelis.
“We have to turn inwards,” Ashrawi said. “We have work on our own system. We have to have elections. We have to have reform.”
“We have to really empower our own people, because they do need to be able to withstand all these challenges and betrayals and onslaught.”