PA arrests Hebron businessman who attended Bahrain conference

Palestinian official says Ramallah may be looking for more info on US-led summit with detention of Saleh Abu Mayala; 2nd Palestinian participant said to narrowly escape arrest

Palestinian policemen participate in a training session at their headquarters in the West Bank city of Hebron on January 30, 2019. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)
Illustrative: Palestinian policemen participate in a training session at their headquarters in the West Bank city of Hebron on January 30, 2019. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

The Palestinian Authority arrested a Palestinian businessman who attended the US-led economic conference in Bahrain this past week where the Trump administration unveiled the economic aspects of its proposed peace plan, a senior PA official said on Saturday.

Saleh Abu Mayala was arrested in Hebron by Palestinian intelligence forces in an area under Palestinian Authority security control, the Hebron-based senior PA official told The Times of Israel.

The official said he wasn’t aware of the reason for the arrest, but said that Ramallah might be seeking intelligence on the Bahrain conference.

Palestinian officials refused to attend the summit and urged Arab states not to participate. But some Palestinian entrepreneurs were present.

Palestinian businessman Saleh Abu Mayala. (Facebook)

PA security forces also attempted to arrest Ashraf Ghanam, a Palestinian businessman who attended the conference, in Hebron, but he successfully fled to an Israeli-controlled part of the city, another Palestinian businessman who participated in the confab said in a phone call.

The businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that the PA was pursuing him and the other Palestinian businesspeople for attending the event.

“We are being pursued and threatened. All of us are in a precarious position,” he said. “Why is it that people working on advancing peace and building a better future receive this type of treatment?”

Unnamed Palestinian sources told Hebrew-language Kan public broadcaster that the businessmen who attended the conference were sought out for arrest pending tax-related suspicions.

A list of Palestinian businessmen who attended the event – some of whom live in Palestinian areas and some of whom live abroad – was circulating on Palestinian social media, the Hebrew-language news site Ynet reported.

Though Palestinian officials boycotted the conference, Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee on Tuesday said that no Palestinians were prevented from attending.

“It is shameless for some to claim that Palestinians were threatened or prevented” from attending the workshop, Erekat said in a tweet. He also issued a second post in which he called on those who felt threatened to contact his office.

“If any Palestinian was invited to the Manama work shop[sic], and did not go because he/ she were threatened or prevented by the PLO, Palestinian National Authority, Palestinian factions or parties. Please do not hesitate to contact me in any way you see fit,” he wrote.

A small number of Palestinian businessmen attended the summit and only Ashraf Jabari, a Hebron-based businessman with ties to Israeli settlers and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, spoke on one of its panels. Jabari has faced intense criticism for his relations with Israeli settlers and is often derided as being outside of the Palestinian mainstream.

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

Mayala is known to have close ties to Jabari.

The conference, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday, focused on the economic portion of the US administration’s peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 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.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday that the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership pushed back on the conference, arguing that a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must precede projects to develop the Palestinian economy.

“We say that national rights are not pieces of real estate that are purchased and sold and that arriving at a political solution that guarantees freedom, dignity, independence and justice for our people must precede any economic programs or projects because that will create stability and security for everyone. For that reason, the State of Palestine did not participate in the American workshop that took place two days ago in Manama,” he said.

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