Palestinians Protest UAE Deal With Israel at al-Aqsa Mosque

Outside the al-Aqsa Mosque, protesters tore up photographs of the Crown Prince of the UAE and trampled on them. The PA has begun to dissuade them from also establishing relations with Israel

Jack Khoury
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Palestinians burn cutouts depicting U.S. President Donald Trump and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Nablus, August 14, 2020
Palestinians burn cutouts depicting U.S. President Donald Trump and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Nablus, August 14, 2020Credit: RANEEN SAWAFTA/Reuters
Jack Khoury

Dozens of Palestinian worshipers tore up, trampled and set fire to images of Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, as they protested in the compound of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem against the peace agreement between the UAE with Israel.

The Palestinian Authority has begun a round of talks with Arab states in order to stop them from promoting any similar initiatives to normalize relations with Israel, particularly Bahrain and Oman.

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A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz that Thursday’s announcement came as a complete surprise to the Palestinians leadership and that even President Mahmoud Abbas didn’t know about it.

The protest took place as worshippers gathered at the mosque for Friday prayers. According to eyewitnesses, during the protest, the police prevented the hoisting of Palestinian flags, confiscated posters from the worshipers and arrested some of them. Since the announcement of the agreement last night, several processions and demonstrations have been held in Gaza and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

Under an agreement brokered by U.S. President Donald Trump, Israel and the UAE announced on Thursday that they will normalize diplomatic ties, brought together by a confluence of interests against Iran.

A man holds a Palestinian flag while others stand on an anti-Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed poster in Jerusalem's Old City, August 14, 2020Credit: AMMAR AWAD/Reuters

The deal also envisions giving Muslims greater access to Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque by allowing them to directly fly from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport.

This was greeted with dismay by Palestinian worshippers filing into the tree-lined hilltop compound in Jerusalem's walled Old City known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

"Our brothers in the Emirates put our blessed mosque in the grip of death," said Kamal Attoun, 60, an East Jerusalem Palestinian and Old City merchant.

Asked if he would welcome Muslims from the Emirates or the Gulf under such circumstances, Attoun said: "You've seen how collaborators from Saudi Arabia have been received in the past. The same fate awaits the Emiratis."

He was referring to a pro-Israel Saudi internet influencer who was reportedly taunted as he walked through the Old City compound last year.

People burn a picture depicting Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed during a protest against the UAE's normalization deal with Israel, in Jerusalem's Old City, August 14, 2020Credit: AMMAR AWAD/Reuters

Palestinians have long sought East Jerusalem, where the Old City is located, as capital of a future state and have looked to Arab nations to defend that stance. If they normalize ties with Israel, Palestinians fear losing any chance of future sovereignty in the city and guaranteed access to Al Aqsa mosque.

Mohammad al-Sharif, 45, a member of Israel's Arab minority, said he would not hold it against ordinary Muslims from the Gulf "because their rulers made a mistake."

But he was scathing about their leaders.

"Collaboration with the UAE is worse, a hundred times worse than collaborating with Israel. That Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and his dirty dogs look out for themselves and their interests and the rest of us can go to hell," he said.

The top Islamic official in Jerusalem, Sheikh Abdul-Azim Salhab of the Islamic Waqf, told Reuters he does "not accept the blessed al-Aqsa mosque to be the subject of political bickering. It is higher than this tug-of-war."

Condemnation also came from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose spokesman on Thursday read out a statement from the leadership on Palestinian television calling the deal a "betrayal of Jerusalem, al-Aqsa and the Palestinian cause".

Palestinians across Gaza and the occupied West Bank rallied on Friday against the deal. Protesters in the city of Nablus burned effigies of Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Zayed.

Israelis delighted

Meanwhile, Israel embraced the deal, with the country's biggest-selling daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, calling it a "bold breakthrough".

Some analysts said Netanyahu risked angering his supporters by walking back pledges to annex land in the West Bank – territory sought by Palestinians for a state – so as to do a deal with an Arab Gulf country.

"He gained a few points with the centre-left, which loves agreements with Arabs, but he lost many more points with his base of right-wing voters," wrote Ben Caspit in Maariv.

Netanyahu, dogged by an ongoing corruption trial and criticized for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has hailed the agreement as a personal success in integrating Israel in the Middle East.

On his Arabic-language Twitter account he credited Israel's foreign intelligence service Mossad with helping to clinch the deal.

Under spy chief Yossi Cohen, Netanyahu said, the Mossad helped develop Israel's relations with the Gulf and "ripen the peace agreement with the Emirates".

Silence from Saudi Arabia 

As media and people in the United Arab Emirates hailed the Gulf state's deal to normalise relations with Israel as a diplomatic victory that helps the Palestinians, silence reigned in Saudi Arabia, longtime figurehead of regional policy towards Israel.

Analysts see the surprise UAE-Israel agreement announced on Thursday as a strategic boost for the UAE's regional and global standing that could put it ahead of its powerful Saudi neighbor and ally, especially in critical relations with Washington.

In July last year the UAE said it was withdrawing its troops from Yemen where it had jointly with Saudi Arabia led a Western-backed coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis since 2015

On Thursday morning, the Arabic hashtag "Gulfis_Against_Normalisation" was trending in third place in Saudi Arabia.