Despite official boycott, Palestinian business delegation to attend Bahrain meet

Israeli-American advising group says about 10 Palestinians who work in small- and medium-enterprises across West Bank will travel to Manama for workshop

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Illustrative: A billboard pictured on May 27, 2006, along the seafront, in Manama, Bahrain, reads 'Palestinian family support project. Urgent. With 25 dinars (US$9.50) save a family from the siege.' (AP/Hasan Jamali)
Illustrative: A billboard pictured on May 27, 2006, along the seafront, in Manama, Bahrain, reads 'Palestinian family support project. Urgent. With 25 dinars (US$9.50) save a family from the siege.' (AP/Hasan Jamali)

Approximately 10 Palestinians from the business world will attend the US-led economic workshop in Bahrain later this week, according to an Israeli-American businessman who said he will participate in the conference as an adviser to the delegation.

Many Palestinians have rejected the summit, which Ramallah sees as an attempt to buy off Palestinian political aspirations. But Charles Tawil said several businesspeople from across the West Bank who work in small- and medium-sized enterprises would attend.

Tawil told The Times of Israel on Sunday said that all the Palestinian businesspeople participating in the summit hold ties to Hebron-area businessman Ashraf Jabari.

Jabari, a former member of the Palestinian Authority security forces who maintains ties with settlers in the West Bank and to US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, is one of two Palestinian businessmen to publicly state he will attend the conference. He is often derided as outside the mainstream of Palestinian society.

The US administration and Bahrain announced in mid-May that they will host an economic workshop in Manama on June 25-26, which “will facilitate discussions on an ambitious, achievable vision and framework for a prosperous future for the Palestinian people and the region.”

American officials have said that the summit will deal with the economic portion of the US administration’s plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The White House revealed the economic part of the US peace plan on Saturday on its website, which includes proposals for more than $50 billion of investment over the next 10 years in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and neighboring Arab countries.

The decision to focus the conference on economics rather than politics has angered the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership, which has firmly rejected participating in it. A few Arab states, including Iraq and Lebanon, have backed the Palestinians and refused to participate, and some of those who are sending representatives, such as Jordan, have cautioned that the plan cannot replace a political solution.

Ashraf Jabari, left, attends a Jerusalem conference on Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank on February 12, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Since US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and initiated the relocation of the US embassy in the Jewish state to the city, the Palestinians have significantly downgraded their ties with Washington.

Tawil confirmed that Mohammed Massad, a Palestinian businessman, will attend the conference.

Massad, whose Facebook page says he originally comes from Jenin but currently lives in Haifa, has described himself as “self-employed.”

Massad published a post on his Facebook page on Thursday, declaring that he would attend the conference and attached a recording of the speech he said he intends to deliver at the conference, which includes statements highly critical of both Israel and the PA.

Massad did not respond to requests for comment about his participation in the economic workshop.

Tawil said he could not reveal the specific names of the Palestinian businesspeople, other than Jabari and Massad, attending the summit due to “security concerns.”

A number of prominent Palestinian businesspeople have issued sharp critiques of the conference and some of them have said that they turned down invitations to attend it.

“We will not work with any event outside the Palestinian national consensus,” real estate developer Bashar Masri, the visionary of Rawabi, the West Bank’s first planned Palestinian city, wrote on his Facebook in May. “The idea of economic peace is an old idea that is now suggested differently…. As our people previously rejected it, we are rejecting it now.”

White House officials have insisted that the US plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also includes a political portion, which they will unveil at an unspecified future date.

Palestinian entrepreneur Bashar al-Masri in front of his residential project of Rawabi, on February 23, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Tawil added that he became an adviser to the delegation of Palestinian businessmen going to the economic workshop at Jabari’s request, adding that he also plans to bring two of his advisers to the summit.

Jabari did not respond to calls before the publication of this article.

Asked what he hopes for from the conference, Tawil replied: “I wish that what they declared the conference for will move forward… For once there is an idea to give a damn about the Palestinians. So, why not?”

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