Businessman Arrested by Palestinian Authority After Attending Bahrain Conference Released

Hebron resident Salah Abu Miala was taken by Palestinian security forces upon his return to the West Bank

A Palestinian man burns a photo Trump and Bahrain's King Hamad al-Khalifa in a protest against the Mideast peace conference, in a village near the West Bank city of Hebron, June 24, 2019.
Majdi Mohammed/AP

A Palestinian businessman who was detained by Palestinian security forces for after attending the U.S.-led Bahrain conference had been released Sunday morning, a relative confirmed.

U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt said Sunday in a tweet "we are pleased" that the Palestinian Authority released Hebron resident Salah Abu Miala, adding the Trump administration is looking forward to "continuing our conversation w[ith] all who attended the workshop & anyone else who wants a better future for the Palestinians."

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Members of Abu Miala's family spoke to PA officials Saturday overnight, arguing he suffers "serious" medical condition, which prevents him from staying in detention.

A Palestinian security official told Haaretz that Abu Miala "has no specific charge that can be attributed to him, but it was a warning. He must understand the implications of this sort of collaboration."

The official added that the Palestinian government wanted to clarify to the Americans and the Israelis that it would not allow them to form an alternative leadership or foster businessmen in an attempt to push for Palestinian adoption of the Trump administration's Middle East peace plan.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Abu Miala was released "under American pressure." In his opening remarks at a government meeting in Jerusalem, he said his arrest "makes clear that the Palestinians are determined to continue the conflict at any price ... These are not the actions of those who want to promote peace."

According to reports on Palestinian news sites and social media, members of the Palestinian Authority's intelligence forces detained Abu Miala on Friday night, immediately upon his return to the West Bank.

The Palestinian government officially boycotted the conference, at which senior White House advisor Jared Kushner revealed the economic component of the Trump Administration's Middle East peace plan. In May, Palestinian Social Development Minister Ahmed Majdalani said that "any Palestinian who would take part would be nothing but a collaborator with the Americans and Israel."

The PA did not disclose of which crimes Abu Miala is suspected. In a conversation with Haaretz, Palestinian intelligence sources confirmed that the PA carried out these arrests in Hebron, but did not elaborate further. According to them, the decision to perform these mass arrests is made by the upper echelons in Ramallah.

Settler leader Yossi Daga, head of the Samaria Regional Council, defended Abu Miala on Saturday and sharply criticized the PA. Dagan, who met with Palestinian businessmen ahead of their departure for Bahrain as part of their existing behind-the-scenes ties, called on the Israeli government to revoke the entry permits of all senior PA officials, calling them "terrorists" and "mafiosi."

After the conference a Palestinian report said PA forces surrounded the home of another participant, Ashraf Ghanem, also of Hebron, claiming that he is suspected of attacking a Palestinian businessman a year ago. Unlike Abu Miala, Ghanem managed to evade them.

Another prominent businessmen to attend the conference, Ashraf Jabari, met with Dagan before leaving for Bahrain and even hosted Dagan in his home in Hebron about a month ago to partake in an iftar meal to break the fast during Ramadan.

The small delegation was very tense each time their identities were revealed, and they requested that photographers not take their picture, even though the conference was open to the press and was livestreamed. They furiously confronted anyone who they suspected of documenting their presence.

A senior Fatah official told Haaretz that the arrests were well-received by the Palestinian public, especially considering that the targets are not leading businessmen, but rather mid-level merchants, and that their participation in the Bahrain conference was looked at as an act of opposition to the Palestinian nation as a whole.

Noa Landau contributed to this report.