update deskIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

UAE FM calls PA leadership ‘Ali Baba and the forty thieves’

"Why would the UAE give assistance to the Palestinian Authority without real reforms?" asked Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ramallah, May 25, 2021. Credit: Flash90.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ramallah, May 25, 2021. Credit: Flash90.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan last month called the leadership of the Palestinian Authority “Ali Baba and the forty thieves,” speaking during a meeting of Arab countries that was attended by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Axios, citing five sources with knowledge of the incident, reported on Thursday that a shouting match erupted during the April 29 meeting in Riyadh that also included the top diplomats of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, as well as top P.A. official Hussein al-Sheikh.

The meeting took place on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum and was called to discuss a joint post-war strategy for the Gaza Strip.

Al-Sheikh was said to have complained that while Ramallah has instituted reforms and created a new government as Washington and Arab countries requested, it isn’t getting adequate political and financial support.

Towards the end of the meeting, Sheikh Abdullah pushed back and told al-Sheikh he had yet to see any significant reform inside the P.A.

The Emirati diplomat then denounced the P.A. leadership as “Ali Baba and the forty thieves” and claimed officials in Ramallah are “useless” and “replacing them with one another will only lead to the same result.

“Why would the UAE give assistance to the Palestinian Authority without real reforms?” asked Abdullah.

The sources said al-Sheikh yelled back at the UAE diplomat and stated that nobody will dictate to the P.A. how to conduct reforms.

According to Axios, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud tried to calm the two men down. However, the meeting had already gotten out of control, with Abdullah leaving the room angrily.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi then left the meeting and came back several minutes later with the Emirati foreign minister, who apologized to Blinken that he had to witness the fight.

‘You should reform yourselves’

In March, new P.A. Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa claimed his government aims to enact wide-ranging reforms and hold the first election since 2006. However, he did not provide a timetable for the vote, saying it would depend on “realities on the ground.”

Mustafa’s predecessor, Mohammad Shtayyeh, submitted his government’s resignation on Feb. 26, saying new “arrangements” were needed to take account of the “emerging reality in the Gaza Strip.”

The United States wants Ramallah to take control of the Strip after the war against Hamas ends, a move that Israel vehemently rejects because of Ramallah’s overt support for terrorism. Blinken has insisted that an “effective and revitalized” P.A. should ultimately govern the Strip.

During a Jan. 10 meeting, Blinken urged P.A. chief Mahmoud Abbas to implement “reforms, which, if implemented, would benefit the Palestinian people.” Sky News described the exchange as “tense.”

Responding to the demand that Abbas reform the P.A. leadership, Palestinian officials told America’s top diplomat, “You should reform yourselves and your policy towards the Palestinian issue.”

On April 1, Blinken conveyed to Abbas the Biden administration’s eagerness to begin working with the new P.A. government, which includes several antisemitic supporters of terrorism.

During a call with Abbas, Blinken “reiterated that the United States looks forward to working with the new P.A. Cabinet to promote peace, security and prosperity, and urged the implementation of necessary reforms,” according to U.S. State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller.

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