Palestinians Arrest, Later Free Businessman for Attending Bahrain Peace Conference

Saudi Minister of State Mohammed al-Shaikh (C) arrives for the second day of a US-sponsored Middle East economic conference on June 26, 2019 in the Bahraini capital Manama. - White House senior adviser Jared Kushner called during the conference for the Palestinians to accept the "Opportunity of the Century" that …
SHAUN TANDON/AFP/Getty

TEL AVIV – The Palestinian Authority arrested and later released a Palestinian businessman for attending a US-led economic peace conference in Bahrain in a move that was slammed by President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace envoy as “unconscionable.” 

Saleh Abu Mayala was arrested by the PA’s intelligence forces as he was walking from his car Friday night. Mayala was one of 12 Palestinian businessmen to attend last week’s Manama summit despite the PA’s rejection of the conference.

“We did not break any laws by attending the conference,” Ashraf Jabari, the leader of a Palestinian business delegation who was also at the conference, said.

However, a Palestinian official disagreed, calling the businessmen’s attendance “tantamount to betrayal,” the New York Times reported.

President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner launched a $50 billion economic peace plan for the Palestinians at last week’s Bahrain summit.

PA forces also attempted to arrest another Palestinian businessman, Ashraf Ghanam, for attending the conference, but Ghanam fled to an Israeli-controlled part of Hebron.

“We are being pursued and threatened. All of us are in a precarious position,” another attendee said on condition of anonymity. “Why is it that people working on advancing peace and building a better future receive this type of treatment?”

Greenblatt took to Twitter to blast the PA for the arrests.

“It is unconscionable that the PA would arrest someone for attending the workshop in Bahrain claiming his attendance was an act of ‘betrayal,'” he wrote.

“No! Betrayal is the PA arresting its own people for having the courage to discuss new ideas for a better life,” he added.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday reiterated his claim that an economic plan would not work without first agreeing on a political solution to the conflict.

“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.

In his closing remarks at the conference, Kushner told the absent Palestinians that the U.S. has “not given up on you” and the “deal of the century” should now be called the “opportunity of the century.”

Kushner also acknowledged that prosperity for Palestinians is not possible without a political solution to the conflict.

“Agreeing on an economic pathway forward is a necessary precondition to resolving the previously unsolvable political issues,” Kushner said.

“To be clear, economic growth and prosperity for the Palestinian people are not possible without an enduring and fair political solution to the conflict — one that guarantees Israel’s security and respects the dignity of the Palestinian people.”

However, he added that developing the Palestinian economy could result in “a real peace that leads to prosperity.”

“We see tremendous potential,” he concluded.

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