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Palestinians Feel Betrayed By UAE-Israel Deal


Shifting alliances in the Middle East have left Palestinians stunned. The United Arab Emirates this month says it will open official relations with Israel. That breaks a tradition among most Arab countries not to make peace with Israel until Israel and the Palestinians make peace. NPR's Daniel Estrin brings us this view from Palestinians who say they feel betrayed.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: We came to this Palestinian public hospital in Ramallah because the emergency room was funded by the United Arab Emirates. There's a big dedication plaque that says it's a show of Arab unity. That unity is now broken. The Emirates would be one of only three Arab countries to have official relations with Israel besides Egypt and Jordan.

LAMA AL-AKHRAS: Definitely, there is something new in what's happening in the Middle East. It's not something that we are familiar with.

ESTRIN: Palestinian pediatric oncologist Lama Al-Akhras.

AL-AKHRAS: Arab countries and especially the Gulf countries - they were, like, really compassionate with the Palestinian issues. But now they are letting us down, actually.

ESTRIN: Patients and their relatives gather outside the emergency room that bears the Emirati ruling family's name. Hospital patient Ayman Ramiyeh says Gulf Arab countries claim to promote Palestinian independence from Israeli control. But for years, they've quietly cooperated with Israel on trade and security.

AYMAN RAMIYEH: (Through interpreter) Making peace with Israel is not a bad idea at all but peace not like this peace, peace whereby you give me my country, you give me my rights, not like this.

ESTRIN: Palestinian relations with the Emirates soured a few years back when the Emirates gave refuge to an exiled rival of the Palestinian president. Then this year, the Emirates airlifted coronavirus medical aid for the Palestinians, but Palestinian leaders refused to accept it because the Emirati airplane landed openly in Israel's airport, a precedent that was celebrated by Israelis. Palestinian ambulance worker Hamza Karaja

HAMZA KARAJA: (Through interpreter) I don't want their aid. I don't want their medicine because they're normalizers with Israel.

ESTRIN: The Emirati say this deal is good for the Palestinians. In exchange for normalizing relations with Israel, they got Israel to shelve plans already condemned, internationally, to annex parts of the occupied West Bank where Palestinians seek a future state. Former Palestinian Education Minister Sabri Saidam doesn't buy that argument because Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu says annexation is still on the table for the future.

SABRI SAIDAM: Netanyahu got what he wanted. The only party that didn't get what it wants is the Palestinians.

ESTRIN: The Trump administration brokered the deal with the Emirates and hopes it'll pressure Palestinian leaders to compromise with Israel. Saidam says Palestinians cannot be cornered. He believes no matter what Arab governments do, their societies will continue to reject Israel so long as it's in conflict with the Palestinians.

SAIDAM: I assure you, Egypt has signed an agreement 1979. The Jordanians have signed the peace deal with the Israelis. But yet there's no normalization amongst the people. You don't see Egyptians coming and visiting. There's been an agreement, but there's not been any normalization.

ESTRIN: An outlier among Palestinian commentators is peace activist Mohammed Dajani. He faced backlash for taking his Palestinian university students to Auschwitz to foster empathy with Israelis about the Holocaust. He supports the Emirati embrace of Israel.

MOHAMMED DAJANI: Having these countries start to build relations with Israel would make Israel feel more safe to be able to deal with the Palestinians and to give the Palestinians their rights.

ESTRIN: The Palestinian Authority recalled its ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and is boycotting a World Trade Expo in Dubai. It's called on the UAE to cancel its deal with Israel. But Palestinian officials are worried this is only the beginning and that more Arab countries might soon follow and reach out to Israel.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Ramallah, the West Bank.

(SOUNDBITE OF KABANJAK'S "BLUES ENCORE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.