Palestinian businessman who attended Bahrain confab says PA seized his ID

Ashraf Ghanem says he evaded arrest; Ashraf Jabari, who led delegation to conference, says results of the summit ‘are coming’

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

Hebron-area businessmen Ashraf Jabari (R) and Ashraf Ghanem (L) speaking at a press conference in central Jerusalem on July 2, 2019. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)
Hebron-area businessmen Ashraf Jabari (R) and Ashraf Ghanem (L) speaking at a press conference in central Jerusalem on July 2, 2019. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

A Palestinian businessman who attended a US-led economic workshop in Bahrain last week said on Tuesday that Palestinian Authority security forces have confiscated his passport, government-issued ID and credit cards.

Ashraf Ghanem, a 45-year-old owner of a furniture company, said at a press conference in central Jerusalem that PA intelligence forces seized the items when they raided his home in Hebron Friday night and attempted to arrest him following his return from the conference in Bahrain.

Ghanem and a small number of other Palestinian businessmen, including Ashraf Jabari, participated in the summit in Manama last week, which the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership fiercely opposed.

Jabari, a Hebron resident who also spoke at the press conference, holds ties with settlers in the West Bank and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. He is often derided as being outside the Palestinian mainstream.

The conference in Bahrain focused on the economic portion of the American administration’s peace plan, which proposes billions of dollars of investment in infrastructure projects in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and neighboring Arab countries.

In this June 25, 2019, photo released by Bahrain News Agency, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner talks to the audience during the opening session of the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Manama, Bahrain. (Bahrain News Agency via AP)

The Palestinian leadership has asserted that the confab’s economic focus sought to undermine its aspirations for statehood. It also has accused the US of attempting to use the gathering to normalize Israel’s status in the Arab world.

Ghanem said a group of PA intelligence officers raided his home at 10 p.m. on Friday when he was out running an errand.

“One of the officers called me from my brother’s phone…and said I am wanted for participating in the conference in Bahrain,” he said.

Ghanem stated that he decided not to return to his home and fled to Jabari’s house, which is in an area under Israeli security control, where he said he stayed until relocating to another house in Hebron under Palestinian security control.

Adnan Damiri, a spokesman for the PA security forces, did not respond to requests for comment about Ghanem’s assertions.

Palestinian businessman Saleh Abu Mayala. (Facebbook)

While the PA security forces did not collar Ghanem on Friday, they arrested Saleh Abu Mayala, another Palestinian businessman who attended the US-led summit, before releasing him on Saturday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the US had pressured the PA to set Abu Mayala free. Asked whether the Trump administration pushed Ramallah to release Abu Mayala, the US embassy declined to comment.

Ghanem, a father to five children, added that while he has not returned to his home, he has overcome fears that he could lose his life.

File: Palestinian security forces in Hebron, November 14, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

“The old statements are old. As for today, there is no fear as long as I am not doing anything wrong,” he said, later adding, “The war and media against me has given me strength and courage to confront the world.”

Ghanem told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that he was “afraid for my life.”

Asked whether he had received assurances that the PA would not arrest him, he responded that he had not.

Ghanem also said that “persons” were speaking to the PA to retrieve his passport and other belongings, without elaborating, and said that he was briefly held up at an Israeli checkpoint on Tuesday because Israeli authorities wanted to see his ID.

Jabari defended his and the other Palestinian businessmen’s participation in the conference in Manama, arguing that it did not violate the law.

“There is no law that prevents any person from participating in a conference,” he said. “For any Palestinian, it is a right to participate in a conference, gathering or workshop regardless of whether it aligns with the PA’s vision.”

Jabari, a car dealer and food importer, was the only Palestinian businessman at the summit to speak on a panel. He said the Palestinian businessmen at the conference were from Hebron, Jenin, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jerusalem and noted that they had traveled to Bahrain through Ben Gurion Airport.

Asked whether the conference produced “any tangible business outcomes,” he said that “the results are coming.”

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

“Is it reasonable to think we will see huge development projects for days after we come back?” he said.

Jabari, however, also claimed that he spoke to Arab businessmen at the conference, who plan to work with him to build a “modern” dairy farm in the West Bank that will cost $10 million.

American officials have said the conference sought to gather feedback from business leaders and officials about the economic portion of their plan. They have denied it aimed to collect pledges for their proposal.

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