Palestinian factions close ranks against US-backed Mideast initiative

Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

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Palestinian factions on Thursday staged a rare show of unity to underline their rejection of the US-backed normalisation deal between Israel and the UAE.

"We cannot accept anyone speaking in our name. We have never allowed it, and we will not allow it, ever," said president Mahmud Abbas at a meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah beamed live by videoconference to a parallel meeting held at the Palestinian embassy in Beirut.

"We will never accept the United States as the sole mediator for negotiations (with Israel), and we will not accept its plan" for a peace settlement, said Abbas, calling for Palestinian "unity" in the face of Washington's strategy.

The meeting was the first since 2013 bringing together Abbas, head of the mainstream Fatah party and West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, and Islamist Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh -- albeit virtually, rather than in the same room.

Haniyeh, whose rival movement controls the Gaza Strip, also called for a united front, via videoconference from Beirut.

"We must restore our national unity, put an end to division and establish a unified Palestinian position... to confront projects directed against our people," said the Hamas chief.

Under a US initiative unveiled this year, Israel would retain control of the disputed city of Jerusalem as its "undivided capital" and annex settlements and other areas in the occupied West Bank.

On August 13, US President Donald Trump announced an agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalise ties.

Under the US-brokered deal, the Jewish state has suspended, but not permanently dropped, annexation plans in the West Bank.

The UAE became the third Arab country to agree to normalise ties with Israel, after Egypt signed a peace deal in 1979 and Jordan followed suit in 1994.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday: "There are many more unpublicised meetings with Arab and Muslim leaders to normalise relations with the state of Israel."

The Palestinians have roundly condemned the accord as a "betrayal" by Abu Dhabi of the struggle to establish a state of their own, incorporating territories seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, with east Jerusalem as its capital.