Restaurant in Ramallah backs out of hosting US Embassy meeting with Palestinians

Palestinian activist Isam Bakr says upscale eatery rebuffed US after he and others called its management in light of Trump’s ‘punitive measures against Palestine’

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

Manara Square in Ramallah (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Manara Square in Ramallah (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

An upscale restaurant in Ramallah backed out of hosting a lunch meeting between the US Embassy’s commercial attache and Palestinian businesspeople earlier this week, according to both an activist and a businessman who said he was invited to the lunch.

The restaurant said it would not host the meeting after the National and Islamic Forces in Ramallah, a group of local activists, contacted its management and demanded it cancel the event, according to Isam Bakr, a leading member of the group.

“We called the members of the management and told them that the restaurant should not host this meeting. We asked them how it could permit the gathering to take place on its premises following all of the US administration’s punitive measures against Palestine, including the State Department’s recent decision to erase Palestine from its site,” Bakr told The Times of Israel, referring to the department’s removal of the “Palestinian Territories” section from its website.

“Approximately half an hour later, the management informed us that it would not host the meeting, which we highly appreciated,” said Bakr, who asked that the name of the restaurant not be identified over concerns it could be targeted.

He said that the event was slated for Thursday at noon, but the restaurant decided to cancel it on Wednesday.

The restaurant is known for its closeness to Palestinian Authority officials, who often take international and Israeli guests there during visits to Ramallah. A member of its staff said that no manager was available to comment and its owner did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Osama Amro, head of the Palestinian Businessmen Association, said he turned down an invitation from the US Embassy to attend the lunch.

“I am committed to boycotting American officials because of the unjust actions that the US administration has taken against our people,” Amro said.

Since late 2017, the Trump administration has made several moves anathema to the Palestinian Authority, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the US Embassy in the Jewish state from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians and the main UN agency serving them, and closing the Palestinian Liberation Organization representative office in Washington.

In the wake of these measures, the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership has significantly downgraded its ties with the US administration and instituted a boycott against the White House and many other American government bodies.

The US, however, has made efforts to meet with Palestinians, including businesspeople, to discuss the economic development of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The US Embassy declined to comment when asked to respond to Bakr’s description of what transpired.

Earlier in August, the US Embassy postponed a conference it planned to hold at the Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah after the National and Islamic Forces threatened to take action to prevent it from taking place.

The embassy said it had organized the conference to bring together alumni of US educational and cultural programs such as Fulbright, including dozens of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip.

“We are aware of recent statements regarding a planned event for alumni of US educational and cultural programs,” the embassy said at the time. “In order to avoid the Palestinian participants being put in a difficult situation, we have decided to postpone the event for now.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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