Palestinian businessmen planning to invest in the West Bank economy have once again been reminded of the challenges facing anyone who wants to do business with the Palestinian Authority.
One of the businessmen, Mohamed Al Sabawi, a Canadian investor of Palestinian origin, was this week arrested by Palestinian Authority policemen in Ramallah after publicly criticizing Mahmoud Abbas.
Al Sabawi, 68, is Director-General of the Ahlia Insurance Group, a firm that employs hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank. His arrest is seen as part of a campaign by the Palestinian Authority to intimidate and extort money from prominent and wealthy businessmen who seek to help strengthen the Palestinian economy.
Palestinian Authority policemen raided Al Sabawi's office and arrested him on suspicion that he had called on Palestinians to topple Abbas.
Al Sabawi was held for nine hours at a police station in Ramallah, where he was accused of "insulting" Abbas and "obstructing" the work of police officers.
Palestinian Authority policemen raiding Mohamed Al Sabawi's Ramallah office. (Image source: Screenshot from Wattan TV YouTube video.)
The second charge relates to an incident on November 18, when officers belonging to the Palestinian Authority's Presidential Guard stormed the building housing the Ahlia Insurance Group in order to occupy the roof as part of measures to secure the visit of French President François Hollande to Ramallah.
Al Sabawi tried to prevent the security officers from entering the building, but to no avail. Frustrated, he declared in front of TV crews, "The people want the downfall of Mahmoud Abbas!"
Al Sabawi probably thought that his status as a prominent investor would provide him with some kind of immunity. Of course, he turned out to be wrong.
It is not unusual for the Palestinian Authority to crack down on Palestinians who dare to criticize Abbas. Over the past few years, a number of Palestinian journalists, bloggers and politicians have been targeted by the Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank for publicly criticizing Abbas, especially through social media networking.
But clamping down on journalists and bloggers is not the same as arresting or intimidating businessmen and investors. The case of Al Sabawi will undoubtedly scare potential investors and convince them that investing in Ramallah and other Palestinian cities is a dangerous idea.
Al Sabawi's son, Khaled, said that besides the arrest and humiliation of his father, the Palestinian Authority has "stopped all our title deed procedures for our TABO project." He explained that the TABO project "protects Palestinian land by creating title deeds in neglected villages."
Khaled, who was named "One of the World's Top Energy Entrepreneurs" by Global Post in 2010, said that his father was released as a result of "enormous pressure" on the Palestinian Authority after being held for nine hours .
Khaled, who spent the whole nine hours with his father in the police station in Ramallah, wrote that the arrest "goes to show that the US Kerry Plan to bring 4billion in private investment to the Palestinians territories is nonsense! Come and invest in the PA areas, but if u don't bribe their corrupt officials, the will PA will arrest you."
Abbas himself has not commented on the arrest of Al Sabawi. However, a Palestinian Authority security official said that the arrest was a "routine legal procedure" against an investor suspected of slander and obstructing the work of police officers.
Ironically, Abbas was quoted the following day as saying that the Palestinian economy "needs security and stability." Abbas was speaking during a meeting in his office with a delegation of Israeli businessmen.
The arrest of Al Sabawi shows that Abbas is responsible for creating an atmosphere that harms the Palestinian economy and drives away potential investors.
As the defiant son of Al Sabawai concluded, "This arrest was an attempt to humiliate my father - an independent investor who employs hundreds of Palestinians and has invested in renewable energy and expanding property rights for Palestinians. What the unelected, cynical, and morally bankrupt cronies in Mahmoud Abbas's office don't realize is that they just completely humiliated themselves and that this issue has made us stronger, more vigilant, and with your help, given us a bigger microphone."