On Sunday, a delegation of Israeli businessmen, which included settler tycoon Rami Levy, was hosted by Palestinian billionaire Munib Masri in his Nablus mansion along with former Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, former Jordanian Prime Minister Abd Al-Salam Majali and Jordan’s Prince Firas bin Raad who represented the so-called Quartet.
Moussa, who also met with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, traveled to the West Bank on a Jordanian government helicopter.
The Nablus meeting, which was held in the name of an initiative called “Breaking the Freeze,” aims to create a coalition of Arab and Israeli notables who would work together to move forward the Arab peace plan of 2002.
Also in attendance, according to media reports, were UN representative Robert Serry and head of the Palestinian Authority’s Palestine Investment Fund Muhammad Mustafa, representing Abbas, and business delegations from Turkey and Arab countries.
Mustafa Barghouti, the head of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party, strongly condemned the meeting as “normalization with the Israeli occupation” and “crossing all red lines,” and called on those who attended to apologize to the Palestinian people.
By hosting such meetings – undoubtedly with the backing of the Palestinian Authority – Masri is seen to be giving legitimacy to a notorious man who is a key element in supporting and enriching the Israeli settlement establishment in the West Bank.
Levy owns a supermarket chain which has stores in most of the illegal settlements spread around the West Bank. Palestinians working in Levy’s stores have sometimes faced blunt racism and discrimination.
Two weeks ago, dozens of Palestinians demonstrated outside a Rami Levy store in the illegal settlement of Shaar Binyamin calling for boycotting Israeli goods and boycotting the occupation; four were arrested and many injured.
Boycott committee condemned Masri-Levy dealings
Three months ago, after an article was published by Haaretz about a meeting between Levy and Munib Masri at one of the Rami Levy stores in the West Bank, the Boycott National Committee published a statement condemning the Masri-Levy relationship.
“The warm relations between a segment of Palestinian capitalists and Israeli capitalists,” the statement said, “is one of the worst forms of normalization which provides the [Israeli] occupation a fig leaf to cover up its continued occupation, ethnic cleansing, racism, siege of Gaza, land confiscation and settlement construction, and denial of the right of return for Palestinian refugees.”
Masri: tycoon with close ties to Palestinian Authority
Munib Masri, a highly influential figure who chairs the giant PADICO holding company and controls major investment and business interests in the occupied Palestinian territories, has occasionally been tipped as a Palestinian Authority prime minister. He is one of the tycoons who returned to the occupied territories with Yasser Arafat after the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords, quickly taking a commanding role in the economy due to his proximity to political power.
Masri named his ostentatious Nablus mansion, built largely of imported Italian stone, “The House of Palestine”, after opening it in 2000. After discovering about the recent Masri-Levy meeting in Masri’s mansion, a group of around 460 professional Palestinian journalists from all around Palestine issued a statement via Facebook declaring that they won’t use the term “The House of Palestine” in any news material related to Munib Masri or the house, instead they will use “The house of Munib Masri.” This declaration comes as a protest against Masri hosting settler mogul Levy in that house, labelling the visit as a disgrace.
Broader normalization agenda
The presence of Arab figures such as Moussa and Jordanian notables also indicates the PA’s increasing efforts to encourage normalization between the Arab world and Israel.
Earlier this week, Abbas renounced the Palestinian refugee right of return in an interview on Israeli television, and stated that Palestine will always consist of the West Bank and Gaza.
With other influential men like Masri continuing the legitimization of the Israeli illegal settlement establishment and with appointed PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s continued pursuit of failing economic policies, Palestinians find themselves in a dilemma not knowing who to trust and whose leadership to follow.