Palestinians in the West Bank protest against confab

Palestinian businessman pulls out of US-led conference in Bahrain

Mohammed Massad says when he learned which other businesspeople were planning to attend the summit, he decided to withdraw

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Mohammed Massad (Screenshot: Facebook)
Mohammed Massad (Screenshot: Facebook)

One of the two Palestinian businessmen to announce publicly that he would attend the US-led economic workshop in Bahrain said on Monday, a day before the conference, that he had decided to withdraw.

Mohammed Massad, 54, a Jenin-area native working in agricultural development who has resided in Haifa for 22 years, said last week that he would participate in the summit in the Bahraini capital Manama.

“I accepted the invitation to attend the conference after it was affirmed to me that it will be about bringing real investment for the Palestinian people,” Massad told The Times of Israel. “But when I learned of the names of the group of [Palestinian] businessmen attending the conference, I decided to withdraw my participation because it brings me no honor to stand alongside them.”

Asked what in particular bothered him about the other Palestinian businesspeople participating in the summit, Massad declined to comment.

Massad, who said he had planned to talk at the conference about a plan to plant olive trees in Israel and the West Bank, also announced on his Facebook page that he would not participate in the summit.

The US administration and Bahrain announced in mid-May that they would host an economic workshop in Manama on June 25-26 that “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 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.

A view of the Manama skyline, Bahrain. (CC-BY Jayson De Leon/Wikimedia Commons)

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority has firmly rejected the prospect of participating in the conference. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has said that the Palestinians will not accept its results and demanded that any peace effort begin with political rather than economic matters.

Many prominent Palestinian businesspeople, including real estate developer Bashar Masri, have also rejected the conference and said they turned down invitations to participate it.

Ashraf Jabari, a Hebron-area businessman with ties to settlers in the West Bank and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, is the only other Palestinian businessman who has stated publicly that he will attend the conference. He has faced intense criticism for his relations with Israeli settlers and is often derided as being outside of the Palestinian mainstream.

Jabari did not respond to requests for comment.

Approximately 10 Palestinians businesspeople will attend the economic workshop, according to Israeli-American businessman Charles Tawil, who said he will participate in the conference as an adviser to the delegation.

Tawil said on Sunday said that all the Palestinian businesspeople participating in the summit have ties to Jabari.

Massad asserted that sharp criticism on social media against his announcement last week that he would participate in the conference did not influence his ultimate decision to pull out of it.

“I made the decision to withdraw based on my principles,” he said. “None of the attacks against me had anything to do with it.”

Massad faced intense criticism over the weekend on Facebook and Twitter for stating he would take part in the summit, with some users going as far as to call him “a traitor” and “a collaborator.”

Palestinians protest against conference

A Palestinian man burns a photo of US President Donald Trump and King Hamad al-Khalifa of Bahrain during protests against a US-led meeting this week in the Gulf kingdom on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in the village of Halhul, near the West Bank city of Hebron on June 24, 2019 (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinians protested on Monday against the American economic proposal.

Protesters gathered in cities in the West Bank, including Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron, where clashes broke out, AFP journalists said.

In a protest near Hebron in the southern West Bank, protesters sat around a coffin with the words “No to the deal of the century” on it, a derogatory phrase for US President Donald Trump’s peace proposals.

Protesters also burned pictures of Trump and the king of Bahrain, an AFP correspondent said.

Major Palestinian factions have called for new protests in the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday.

Speaking before a weekly cabinet meeting on Monday morning, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the plan was “simply nonsense.”

“I have not seen in the document any reference to occupation. I have not seen in the document any reference to settlements,” Shtayyeh said.

“A Palestinian-Israeli solution has only to do with ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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