WEST BANK (Dispatches) – The arrival of a United Arab Emirates delegation in the Israeli-occupied territories has been slammed as "shameful” by Palestinian officials.
The delegation – UAE’s first official visit to the occupied territories – was welcomed by Zionist prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Finance Minister Israel Katz at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday.
The visit comes after the two sides signed an agreement at the White House to normalize ties last month.
Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said the visit will only validate Zionist troops’ crimes against the Palestinians.
"The bilateral agreements that were announced today and the delegations that come and go, all of that offers the occupation a strength to escalate its aggression and its crimes against the Palestinian people and increases its intransigence and arrogance,” said Youssef.
Speaking in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, he said the overtures come as the Zionist regime expands illegal settlement activity.
In the besieged Gaza Strip, Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for Hamas, said: "Such a visit will only encourage the occupation to pursue the gradual annexation of West Bank lands.”
Palestinians on social media have decried the "double standards” of the visa exemption rule for Emirati citizens, noting that they are not allowed to move freely within and to the occupied Palestinian territories.
The two sides signed four agreements on visa exemption, aviation, economic cooperation and protection of investments during the first visit from the Persian Gulf state to the occupied territories.
The official UAE delegation headed to the Israeli-occupied territories a day after the Persian Gulf kingdom’s cabinet ratified a normalization agreement that was signed with the Zionist regime in the United States last month.
The UAE cabinet, headed by Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, formally approved the normalization deal with the Zionist regime.
The occupying regime’s parliament also approved the deal with the UAE in mid-October, but emphasized that it would be ratified in the near future.
Eighty lawmakers voted in favor of the agreement. Only 13 parliamentarians — all from the Arab-majority Joint List — voted against the deal, criticizing it as a scheme to undermine the Palestinian people.
The American officials accompanying the Emirati team arrived in Abu Dhabi on Monday from Bahrain, where they joined an Israeli delegation on a trip to Manama to sign a joint communiqué formalizing nascent ties.
The U.S. delegation was led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz.
On Monday morning, Etihad Airways Flight EY9607 — described as the first commercial shuttle from the UAE to Israel — landed at Ben Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv. The flight arrived without passengers, but later departed for Abu Dhabi with an Israeli travel and tourism delegation on board.
The first cargo ship from the Emirates docked in Haifa a week ago carrying electronics and other goods and a port spokesman told AFP such arrivals were expected to become a weekly occurrence.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain became the third and fourth Arab states to agree to normalize ties with the Zionist regime, following Egypt’s deal with the occupying regime in 1979 and a 1994 pact with Jordan.
The normalization deals have drawn widespread condemnation from Palestinians, who seek an independent state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, with East al-Quds as its capital. They say the deals ignore their rights and do not serve the Palestinian cause.