Palestine quits rotating presidency of Arab League over refusal to condemn Israeli deals

Blockade of Gaza described as ‘almost a death sentence during the pandemic’

Palestine has decided to quit the rotating presidency of the Arab League council in response to the organisation's refusal to condemn Emirati and Bahraini normalisation agreements with Israel.

This move has divided the conflicted league between deal supporters Egypt and Oman and the majority, including heavyweight Saudi Arabia, who opposes normalisation of relations with Israel without obtaining Palestinian demands for statehood.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki rejected "pressures and blackmail" from within the 75-year-old organisation but would not withdraw from the 22-member league's governing body, which the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) joined in 1976.

He reiterated the PLO’s adherence to the 2002 league plan requiring Israeli evacuation of Arab territory before normalisation.


The Emirates and Bahrain have made Palestinians feel "like strangers in a scene that has nothing to do with Arabs and Arabism [and] establishes the foundations for an era of capitulation to the enemy", he said.

The PLO's decision coincided with discussions in Istanbul between Fatah and Hamas officials on the establishment of a committee to resolve differences and decide on an election date. The rivals have been at loggerheads since Hamas won a majority of seats in the 2006 parliamentary election.

Fatah's fury intensified when Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah strongman Mohamed Dahlan in 2007. The loser in power struggles within Fatah, he was driven into exile in the Emirates in 2011, where he has advised its rulers.

Following the normalisation deals, the Palestinian Authority has arrested Mr Dahlan's West Bank supporters . He has denied involvement in the Emirates's decision to normalise with Israel, but has called for elections to renew the Palestinian leadership. The US once considered Mr Dahlan a possible successor to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

Lethal weapon

In testimony before the UN's Human Rights Council, the Euro-Mediterranean rights monitor called unilateral sanctions against Gaza's population "a lethal weapon that may lead to the death of civilians, especially in the light of the unprecedented risks posed by the [coronavirus] pandemic".

The monitor's Tayim al-Youssef stated that "the 13-year-long Israeli aerial, naval and ground blockade against two million people in the Gaza Strip has severely impacted all spheres of life in the besieged enclave, with the economic and health sectors as the most heavily damaged".

The total number of coronavirus cases in Gaza has now exceeded 1,500 following a surge last month after being curtailed by strict quarantine since the first two infections appeared in March.

Calling on Israel to lift the blockade, Mr al-Youssef said Gaza had shortages of “47 per cent in essential drugs and 33 per cent in medical consumables”; Gazans could not seek treatment abroad; and the “pandemic has further compromised the enclave’s [already] fragile economy”.

“In other words Gaza’s blockade becomes almost a death sentence during the pandemic.”

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times