US scraps West Bank conference over Palestinian protests
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US scraps West Bank conference over Palestinian protests

Gathering of alumni of US educational and cultural programs canceled after PA says it was meant to circumvent Ramallah’s boycott of Trump administration

A Palestinian protester sets alight an America flag during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 7, 2017.  (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI/File)
A Palestinian protester sets alight an America flag during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 7, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI/File)

AP — The US embassy in Jerusalem on Monday was forced to postpone a conference it had organized in the West Bank city of Ramallah, after Palestinian officials and factions called for a boycott and threatened to organize protests.

The Palestinians cut all ties with the US after it recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017, and view the Trump administration as unfairly biased following a series of actions seen as hostile to their aspirations for an independent state.

The embassy had organized a conference this week to bring together alumni of US educational and cultural programs such as Fulbright, including dozens of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, who received permission from Israel to attend. The territory has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power there in 2007.

The Palestinian leadership viewed the conference as an attempt to circumvent its boycott of the US administration.

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

Illustrative. Bustling Manara Square in downtown Ramallah. (Michal Fattal/Flash90)

It said that this and other events “are designed to create opportunities for exchange and dialogue between Americans and Palestinians at the grassroots level.”

“This event in particular is intended to give alumni of all ages and backgrounds from Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza an opportunity to network with each other and to engage in leadership and capacity building activities,” it said.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. The Trump administration is at work on a long-awaited peace plan, but has not endorsed a two-state solution to the conflict. The Palestinians have already dismissed the plan, saying it is certain to be slanted toward Israel.

A US embassy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Times of Israel that a new date for the event would be determined after the end of the fiscal year, in late September.

Representatives of several Palestinian factions held a press conference Monday at the Grand Park Hotel where the meeting was to have taken place.

Activist Isam Baker told The Associated Press that the Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella group led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, had reached out to the hotel management and the invitees asking them to boycott the meeting.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets US President Donald Trump In the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (Fadi Arouri, Xinhua Pool via AP/File)

“Most of the invitees and the hotel administration agreed with us that the invitation has political implications and it is not innocent,” he said.

“The US administration, which has cut off all aid to our people, shut down our office in Washington and placed huge pressure on our leadership to accept a pro-Israel political plan, will not do any good for our people,” he said. “Therefore, we are boycotting any activities it organizes.”

The Palestine Investment Fund, the PA’s sovereign wealth fund, is a major stakeholder of the Grand Park Hotel.

Baker told The Times of Israel that he and other activists met on Sunday with the hotel’s administration, which informed them that they would not allow the US Embassy to hold the event on its premises.

The US cut more than $200 million in development aid to the Palestinians last year, gutting several long-running programs.

A statement released Sunday by the “national and Islamic forces of the Ramallah governorate” said they were determined to thwart the conference, calling it an attempt to “break the will of the Palestinian people.” It said they planned to organize a “mass popular event to prevent this activity by all available means,” calling for a sit-in and marches.

The youth wing of Fatah also called for a boycott. It vowed to “exercise all forms of legal and popular pressure to express rejection of this conference being held on occupied Palestinian land.” It also called for an “apology” from the hotel.

Baker said that he and other activist would make efforts to prevent the US embassy from holding the event at another location on an alternative date.

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