What’s behind the PA’s muted response to Israel-Sudan deal?

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The Palestinian leadership has toned down its rhetoric on the Sudan deal, in comparison to its response to the deals with Bahrain and the UAE.

Palestinians protest against Israel deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 23, 2020. (photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)

Palestinians protest against Israel deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 23, 2020.

(photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)

When the normalization agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were announced, the Palestinian leadership was quick to issue strongly worded statements condemning the two Gulf states. In the case of Sudan, the third Arab country to normalize its relations, the Palestinian leadership’s reaction appears to be much more restrained.

By contrast, the reactions of some Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as a few PLO officials, were uncompromisingly forthright in denouncing Sudan.

A statement issued by the Palestinian leadership on August 13 accused the UAE of “betraying Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinian issue.”

On September 11, the Palestinian leadership, responding to the Israel-Bahrain normalization agreement, repeated the same charge: “The Palestinian leadership announces its strong rejection and condemnation of the normalization of relations between the Israeli occupation state and Bahrain and considers it a betrayal of Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinian issue.”

Several senior Palestinian officials accused the UAE and Bahrain of “stabbing the Palestinians in the back.”

In addition to the serious charges and denunciations, the Palestinian Authority also swiftly announced that it was withdrawing its ambassadors from Abu Dhabi and Manama in protest of the normalization agreements with Israel.

On Friday, however, the Palestinian leadership, reacting to the Israel-Sudan agreement, appeared to have toned down its rhetoric.

An official statement issued by the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah did not repeat the allegations it previously made against the UAE and Bahrain.

In a laconic and brief statement, the “Palestinian presidency affirmed its condemnation of the normalization of relations with the Israeli occupation state that usurps the land of Palestine” and said that “no one has the right to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause.”

The charges of the “betrayal of the Palestinian issue, al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem” were conspicuously missing from the statement.

And by Saturday evening, there was no decision by the PA to withdraw its ambassador from Khartoum.

PA presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh, in an interview with the Voice of Palestine radio station on Saturday, repeated the Palestinian leadership’s official position, namely that the Palestinians condemn and reject the Israel-Sudan deal. Abu Rudaineh, nonetheless, stopped short of accusing Sudan of betraying the Palestinians or stabbing them in the back.

The Palestinian leadership’s subdued reaction is seen by some Palestinians as a sign that Ramallah is careful not to aggravate tensions with the Arab countries.

The Palestinian attacks on the UAE and Bahrain drew powerful and unprecedented responses from many citizens of the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia. Scenes of Palestinians burning photos of the UAE and Bahrain rulers and the flags of the two countries drew even stronger condemnations from politicians, journalists and political activists in several Gulf states.

The PA has since appealed to Palestinians to stop “harming the symbols and leaders of Arab countries.”

The Palestinian leadership clearly understands that it made a big mistake when it accused Arab countries that once supported the Palestinians of treason and back-stabbing the Palestinians.

Moreover, PA President Mahmoud Abbas seems to understand that recurring attacks on Arab countries that establish relations with Israel will place him on a collision course with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both of which have explicitly and implicitly supported the normalization deals.

As one Palestinian official in Ramallah put it, “We don’t want to be seen as if we are standing against the whole Arab world. We also need to take into consideration the interests of Palestinians living in the Arab countries.”

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