Palestinian Authority Targets Bahrain Conference Attendees

The Palestinian Authority has targeted local businessmen who participated in a U.S.-led economic conference in Bahrain last week centered on improving the Palestinian economy, arresting one attendee and trying to detain another, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The moves marked an escalation in the Palestinian government’s efforts to dissuade its people from cooperating with the Trump administration’s peace initiative. The Palestinian political leadership boycotted the “Peace to Prosperity” conference last week and told Palestinian business leaders to stay away, calling it an attempt to bribe Palestinians into giving up aspirations for a state in the West Bank and Gaza.

A group of 10 Palestinians attended the Manama gathering anyway, with a representative saying they went as individual businessmen willing to hear out the U.S. plan.

On Friday night, Palestinian security forces arrested one of them, Saleh Abu Mayala, in Hebron and tried to arrest another, Ashraf Ghanem, according to Ashraf al-Jabari, who led the Palestinian delegation to Bahrain.

Ghanem wasn’t home when the forces arrived, Jabari said. He added that Mayala was told he was arrested for attending the conference.

Mayala was released Saturday after U.S. officials pressured the Palestinian Authority, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday. U.S. officials pointed to a tweet by Jason Greenblatt, the U.S. envoy leading the peace efforts between Israel and Palestine, saying he was pleased Mayala was released.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, said in a tweet on Saturday that Palestinians who went to the Manama conference should admit they erred, but he didn’t specifically address the arrests, the Journal added.

The Palestinian leadership has rejected Trump administration peace efforts since the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, accusing it of pro-Israel bias.  A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the economic conference a “stunning failure.”

The gathering produced few tangible results, but it provided a rare moment for the Arab government officials and business leaders to mingle with the small contingents of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders. President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner formally unveiled the White House’s plan to attract $50 billion in grants, loans and other aid to revitalize the Palestinian economy.

Kushner has yet to reveal how he plans to bridge Israeli-Palestinian differences on borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem that have bedeviled several U.S. administrations. The political half of the plan has no release date and has been repeatedly delayed, most recently because of unexpected Israeli elections in September.

Eight of the 10 Palestinians who attended are members of an organization that promotes business relations between Palestinians and Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, according to the organization’s co-founder Avi Zimmerman. Mayala and Ghanem are part of this organization and Jabari is its other co-founder. The delegation was supposed to be 15 people, but five dropped over concerns for repercussions or for personal reasons.

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