Jun 6, 2024 - World

"Ali Baba and the 40 thieves": Emirati-Palestinian shouting match blew up Blinken meeting

Emirati foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Jordan's counterpart Ayman al- Safadi arrive for a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and foreign ministers of Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Palestinian representatives on November 04, 2023 in Amman, Jordan.

Emirati foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Jordan's counterpart Ayman al-Safadi arrive for a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and foreign ministers of Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Palestinian representatives on Nov. 04, 2023 in Amman, Jordan. Photo: Jordan Pix/Getty Images

A meeting between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a group of Arab officials about a month ago flew off the rails after an unusual shouting match between the UAE foreign minister and a senior adviser to the Palestinian president, according to five sources with knowledge of the incident.

Why it matters: The heated spat reflects skepticism over the Palestinian Authority's planned reforms and disputes among Arab leaders, both of which could challenge the Biden administration's efforts to forge a post-war strategy for Gaza.

Driving the news: The April 29 meeting took place in Riyadh on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meeting.

  • In addition to Blinken, the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE attended as well as Palestinian minister Hussein al-Sheikh, who is Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas' closest deputy.
  • The goal of the meeting was to discuss a joint post-war strategy for Gaza.

Behind the scenes: According to the sources, during the meeting al-Sheikh said the Palestinian Authority is conducting reforms and created a new government as the U.S. and Arab countries asked, but it isn't getting enough political and financial support.

  • Toward the end of the meeting the Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed pushed back and said he hasn't seen any significant reform inside the Palestinian Authority, the sources said.
  • According to two sources, the Emirati foreign minister then called the Palestinian leadership "Ali Baba and the forty thieves" and claimed senior officials in the Palestinian Authority are "useless" and therefore "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?" he asked.

Al-Sheikh shouted back at the Emirati foreign minister and said nobody will dictate to the Palestinian Authority how to conduct its reforms, the sources said.

  • According to the sources, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud tried to cool down the heated exchange and said reforms take time.
  • But the meeting had already gotten out of control with both sides shouting at each other and the Emirati minister leaving the room in anger.
  • Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi left the meeting and came back several minutes later with the Emirati foreign minister who then apologized to Blinken that he had to witness the internal squabble.
  • An Emirati official confirmed the remarks from the foreign minister and said: "His Highness added that if the Palestinian Authority paid as much attention to its own people as it does to security coordination with Israel the Palestinians will be in much better shape."
  • Al-Sheikh and the State Department declined to comment.

The big picture: Tensions between the UAE and the Palestinian Authority stem from both personal and policy disputes and there has long been a rift between Emirati President Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

  • One of MBZ's closest advisers is Mohammed Dahlan, a main political rival of Abbas, which has increased Abbas' suspicion towards the UAE.
  • The Emiratis on the other hand have for years accused Abbas and the Palestinian leadership of being corrupt.
  • The Palestinian leadership accused the UAE of betraying them after the Emiratis normalized relations with Israel in 2020.

Flashback: Before the appointment of the new Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Mustafa, the Emiratis lobbied the Biden administration against him claiming he was one of Abbas' confidants.

  • The Emiratis pushed for former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad — an Abbas critic — to be appointed instead.

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