Abbas said to block ‘settler’ supermarket mogul from peace meeting

Business forum holds talks with Palestinian leader, reportedly after excluding Rami Levy, who has opened multiple stores in the West Bank

Palestinians shopping at the new Atarot Mall, opened by businessman Rami Levy, owner of the Rami Levy supermarket chain, on January 13, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Palestinians shopping at the new Atarot Mall, opened by businessman Rami Levy, owner of the Rami Levy supermarket chain, on January 13, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly refused to meet with a joint Israeli-Palestinian peace group last week unless Israeli supermarket mogul Rami Levy was dropped from the delegation.

Breaking the Impasse, a forum of Israeli and Palestinian business and community leaders that is pushing for a renewal of the peace process, met with Abbas last Thursday after agreeing to leave Levy out, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Sunday.

Levy owns a nationwide supermarket chain, including six stores in the West Bank that employ and serve both Israelis and Palestinians.

Abbas and the PA consider Levy a “settler.” The Palestinian leader was adhering to the PA’s official hard-line stance against Levy, who has irked the Palestinian leadership since his first branch opened in the West Bank over a decade ago.

The Palestinian Authority’s official television channel broadcast last month an image that equated shopping at a new mall in East Jerusalem, built by Levy, with treason.

“Do not be the occupation’s partner in the Judaization of the city,” the ad said, according to Palestinian Media Watch, an organization that monitors the Palestinian press. “Economic normalization is treason.”

Supermarket king Rami Levy drinks coffee at Atarot Mall, his new complex on the seam of Arab and Jewish Jerusalem (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The Palestinian leader’s office let Breaking the Impasse know that if Levy was included the meeting would be called off, Sunday’s report said.

Forum member Ilan Paz said that “the attendance of Levy at the meeting was a sensitive issue” for Abbas’s office.

The shopping mall in the northern Jerusalem area of Atarot is Levy’s most recent project. The two-floor, NIS 200 million ($54 million) mall was built on the seam between Arab and Jewish Jerusalem and, like his other West Bank stores, employs and serves both Israelis and Palestinians.

Levy has said he isn’t expecting any trouble finding both Palestinian and Jewish customers to shop at the new 25,000-square-meter mall.

“I don’t care about the nationality of the people who shop here, work here,” he said on opening day. “Let’s talk less about who’s who. Let’s just shop together, serve each other and respect one another.”

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