PA frees Hebron businessman arrested for attending Bahrain conference

Saleh Abu Mayala, one of several Palestinians to defy official boycott of US-led workshop, was released Saturday, according to Ashraf Jabari who also attended confab

Palestinian businessman Saleh Abu Mayala. (Facebbook)
Palestinian businessman Saleh Abu Mayala. (Facebbook)

The Palestinian Authority has released a Palestinian businessman from the West Bank whom it arrested after attending a US-led conference in Bahrain focused on the Palestinian economy, a family source said Sunday.

Saleh Abu Mayala was collared in Hebron by Palestinian intelligence forces in an area under PA security control, a senior PA official based in the city said on Saturday.

Palestinian officials refused to attend the summit in the Bahraini capital, Manama, and urged Arab states not to participate. But a small number of Palestinian businessmen participated in the gathering, including Abu Mayala and fellow Hebron resident and businessman Ashraf Jabari.

Jabari confirmed to The Times of Israel on Sunday that Abu Mayala had been released Saturday evening.

“What happened with the arrest was very unfortunate, but I believe this matter has come to an end,” he said. “We did not break any laws by attending the conference.”

Asked whether he was concerned about traveling to areas in the West Bank under PA security control, Jabari said he wasn’t and that he had “no fear.”

Jabari resides in a part of Hebron under Israeli security control.

The family of Abu Mayala refused to comment on the arrest when contacted by AFP, but a family source in the southern West Bank city said he was back at home.

US President Donald Trump’s adviser Jason Greenblatt said the White House was “pleased” by Abu Mayala’s release.

He said on Twitter that the US administration looked forward to further discussions with those who attended the workshop and “anyone else who wants a better future for the Palestinians.”

Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, left, meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 20, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting, alleged that the PA had released Abu Mayala under American pressure.

Asked whether the US pressured the PA to free Abu Mayala, the US Embassy in Jerusalem declined to comment.

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.

PA security forces had also attempted to arrest Ashraf Ghanam, another 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 Saturday.

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?”

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

A small number of Palestinian businessmen attended the summit and only 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.

Abu Mayala is known to have close ties to Jabari.

The conference, which took place last week, 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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