Attempts by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to increase its role in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem have caused outcry among the Palestinian authorities and researchers.

“We think that the UAE is playing a serious role in Jerusalem and the West Bank,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Anadolu Agency.

Earlier reports revealed that the UAE officials were discussing with their Israeli counterparts to launch joint businesses in the illegal settlements located in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which highly angered the Palestinians, mainly those neighboring Al-Aqsa Mosque. 

“The dangerous UAE role in Jerusalem and its agreements with Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank reflect that the UAE-Israeli relations went beyond a normalization deal,” Abu Zuhri said.

He said Emirati officials “are providing support to the Israeli occupation and conspiring against the Palestinian cause”.

On Sept. 15, the UAE and Bahrain signed US-sponsored agreements at the White House to establish full diplomatic, cultural and commercial relations with Israel.

The deals have drawn widespread condemnation from Palestinians, who say the accords ignore their rights and do not serve the Palestinian cause.

Palestinian researcher Sari Sammour lamented that the UAE has now joined the pro-Israel axis in the region.

“The UAE sees that its enemies are the same of Israel such as Hamas, the Arab Spring revolutions, Islamic currents, Iran and Turkey, where the common enmity here brings common cooperation,” Sammour said.

He cited US President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel policy as another factor for the Emirati behavior.

“This may seem strange, but Trump opposes the payment of any money to foreign countries, and he is a staunch support of the Israelis, but he wants to translate this support through Arab funds, mostly the UAE funds.” 

Sammour continued: “Judaizing Jerusalem is an Israeli strategic project, but because of the steadfastness of the Palestinian Jerusalemites, Israel is unable to do so, and therefore Israel needs an Arab umbrella through which it can carry out its schemes in the city with the UAE playing this role,” he said.

Sammour went on to assert that the Gulf state wants to play a role in the occupied territories to compete with other regional players, particularly Turkey.

“Turkey has a rising role in Jerusalem with which the UAE is seeking to compete given that Turkey has distinctive ties with Islamic movements in Palestine and the Arab world,” he said.

UAE maneuver for control of al-Aqsa

The recent normalization deal between the UAE and Israel has escalated the rivalry for the religious control of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.

A joint statement from the US, UAE, and Israel in August said “all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque, and Jerusalem’s other holy sites should remain open for peaceful worshippers of all faiths”. This statement, however, has poised a significant challenge to the status quo in Jerusalem in favor of Israel.

Ironically, the UAE acts in concert with the Israeli settlers and the far-right in an attempt to undermine the authority of the Jordanian and Palestinian Supreme Muslim Council over the holy site.

On Oct.18, a delegation from the UAE visited Al-Aqsa Mosque under the protection of Israeli forces, prompting criticism from Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh.

"Al-Aqsa Mosque shall be entered through the gate of its owners, not through the gate of the Israeli occupation,” Shtayyeh said earlier.

“It is sad to see some Arab delegations entering the compound through the Israeli gate, while worshippers are denied access to it to perform their prayers,” he said.

Last week, Khaled Abu Arafa, a former Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, told Middle East Eye (MEE) that the Israeli-Emirati deal “raises concern and fears among the Jordanians and Palestinians, because it aims to give the UAE a new role inside al-Aqsa”.

Few days following his statement, Abu Arafa was arrested by the Israeli forces and taken to Ofer prison.

To legitimize its normalization deal with Israel, Abu Dhabi says that the agreement gives more freedom of access to Muslims to visit the holy mosque.

Sammour, however, attributed this step to Abu Dhabi's belief that such measures, which antagonize the Muslim world, would prompt the international community to turn a blind eye to its human rights violations on both the domestic and external levels.

"The UAE wants to whitewash its image in the West given the fact that those who support the Israeli settlement activities have wide influence in the US and Europe," he opined.

Early this month, the SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties, a Geneva-based NGO, accused the UAE-backed separatist forces of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) in Yemen of committing human rights violations in the Socotra Archipelago.

Since the UAE-Saudi intervention in Yemen in 2015, tens of thousands of Yemenis, including civilians, are believed to have been killed in the conflict, which has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis as millions remain at risk of starvation.