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Palestinians Living in UAE Uncertain Over Peace Deal With Israel
Palestinian protesters set aflame images of (L to R) Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and US President Donald Trump, during a demonstration in Nablus, in the West Bank, on August 14, 2020. (Jaafar Ashtyeh/AFP via Getty Images)

Palestinians Living in UAE Uncertain Over Peace Deal With Israel

Relations between the UAE and the Palestinian Authority have been strained in recent years, while UAE-Israel ties have intensified based on their shared conflict with Iran

US President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement of a peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates on Thursday has left Palestinians living in the UAE in fear and uncertainty over their future in the country.

Some 200,000 Palestinians are estimated to be living in the UAE, including many who have settled there since the 1970s, according to unofficial figures provided by Palestinian officials.

In recent years, thousands of youth have immigrated to the Emirates, mostly for job opportunities.

While not in total shock, most of the Palestinians who spoke to The Media Line said it was the timing that surprised them the most.

A marketing specialist who returned to Ramallah in the West Bank after living in Abu Dhabi for 12 years says she is still determined to go back there and continue her professional career and educational opportunities for her three daughters.

“What is done is done; we’ve been seeing different signs of the closeness between UAE and Israel,” she told The Media Line on condition of anonymity. “We need to focus on protecting our interests, too.”

“The first reaction from my Emirati friends was that they were happy that they would now be able to come and visit me in Ramallah,” she continued.

“I just wished that they didn’t have to frame it as a deal intended to be about Palestine because it’s clearly not,” she said.

Along the same lines, Ramallah-based political analyst Ahmad Al-Ahmad says the deal came to serve the interests of the Gulf states that feel threatened by regional powers like Iran.

“These are the political interests and priorities of a new generation of leaders in the region, not as attached to the Palestinian question as their elders were,” he said.

“These leaders are now at a transformation point that has come after a rapid change in the regional political struggles that followed the Arab Spring that include powers like Israel, Iran and Turkey. This has indeed left Palestinians with no allies at all,” he said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is “left alone like never before,” he noted.

“Abbas used to always say that he wants the Arab Peace Initiative to be implemented from A to Z and not the other way around, with A being ending the occupation and Z being the full normalization of ties between Arab and Islamic countries and Israel, but he is now all alone in this,” he added.

The Arab Peace Initiative, which was proposed by Saudi Arabia and adopted by the Arab League at its 2002 summit in Beirut calls for Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territory and the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders in exchange for normalization of relations with Israel.

The initiative was supported by the 57 Arab and Islamic states.

Relations between Palestine and the UAE have been strained in recent years. Tensions between the two sides peaked after an Emirati plane – the first from the Gulf – landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport, reportedly carrying a shipment of medical supplies to Palestinians, and was turned down by the Palestinian Authority, which said it was not “coordinated through official channels.”

The ties between the two sides have begun to falter against the backdrop of the UAE’s backing of ex-Fatah strongman, former security chief and bitter opponent of Abbas, Mohammed Dahlan, in 2011.

At the same time, the UAE’s ties with Israel have intensified on the basis of common conflict with Iran. Shared intelligence cooperation has developed and officials, businesspeople, and athletes exchanged visits at a more visible level in the last few years.

At the same time, the UAE’s ties with Israel have intensified on the basis of common conflict with Iran. Shared intelligence cooperation has developed and officials, businesspeople, and athletes exchanged visits at a more visible level in the last few years.

Meanwhile, Shuruq Nimer, a mother of two, who has based in Dubai for the last decade, said she felt stunned in the wake of the declaration.

“At first, the news left us speechless; in my 10 years in the UAE, I’ve never felt like this,” she said.

“It’s not a deal that would benefit Palestinians. It’s highly unlikely that Israel will change its plan to annex parts of the West Bank territory. Any two countries can have peace, deals, or businesses together, but they do not need to put Palestine in the middle of it and s make it look like it’s about Palestine,” said Nimer.

Nimer has not been to the West Bank in about a year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic but is now not sure if the faltering relations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel would cast a shadow on her travel back and forth.

“I don’t think I would be allowed to travel to the West Bank through Tel Aviv,” she said, citing her belief that Palestinians will not be included in the deal between the two countries, which is expected to focus on bilateral economic ties and reciprocal investment opportunities.

On the other hand, Kamila Kharoufeh, a 38-year-old yoga instructor and life coach who came to West Bank for a visit before the lockdown and who has been living in the UAE for two years, had mixed feelings about the deal and what life will be like for her when she returns.

But while she expressed concern about the deal’s impact on her own life, she hoped it would open a door for peace.

“I’ve lived and witnessed the uprisings in Palestine in my lifetime and I really do not want this to be relived by the youth anymore,” she said. “Frankly, when I heard that a peace deal was achieved, I felt happy, because I don’t want anybody to return to the cycle of violence.

“Nevertheless, I cannot think of it as a good thing for the Palestinian people, who are still struggling to achieve independence and self-determination,” she noted.

The UAE is the third Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel and establish diplomatic ties, after Egypt and Jordan. The forging of diplomatic ties and normalization, while supported at the official level, is not widely accepted among the people of these countries.

The Trump Administration has engaged with Arab countries in order to involve them in the economic part of his Middle East peace plan, dubbed “Prosperity for Peace,” which was unveiled at a June 2019 conference in Bahrain. Palestinian leaders boycotted the conference.

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