Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud walks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a reception ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia November 7, 2017.
(photo credit: SAUDI PRESS AGENCY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
In a sign of growing Palestinian distrust of Saudi Arabia, a leading Palestinian politician on Sunday alleged that Riyadh’s detention last week of a billionaire Palestinian-Jordanian businessman was part of pressure being placed on Jordan and the Palestinian Authority to toe the Saudi regional policy line.
Reuters reported Sunday that Sabih Masri, the most influential businessman in Jordan and a leading investor in the Palestinian self-rule areas, had been released by Saudi authorities. Masri, chairman of the Amman-based Arab Bank, told the agency he would be returning to Jordan after finishing business meetings this week. “All is well and I am happy [to be released] and I was given all respect by everyone here, “ Masri, a Saudi citizen, said from his home in Riyadh.
Hasan Khreisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said the detention was “a kind of pressure on Jordan and the Palestinians. They want King Abdullah and the PA to make concessions to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is trying to make a coalition against Iran, against Hezbollah and against Yemen. They need all Arabs to be with their line, but it is difficult for us to be in any line. Our central cause is Palestine and we won’t be part of a coalition against anyone.”
The allegations by Khreisheh, an independent politician from Tulkarm, reflect growing wariness among Palestinians of Saudi Arabia, and in particular Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who many fear is colluding with Washington at Palestinian expense.
Masri’s detention, which follows mass arrests last month of Saudi royals, ministers and businessmen in what is being billed as a sweeping anti-corruption crackdown spearheaded by bin Salman, sent shock waves through Jordan and the PA areas. Masri owns a large stake in Paltel, the largest private-sector company in the West Bank. His family is among the wealthiest Palestinian families, with majority holdings in real estate, tourism and telecommunications companies set up after the launch of Palestinian self-rule in the wake of the 1993 Oslo agreement.
Masri was detained last Tuesday, hours before he was planning to leave Saudi Arabia after he chaired meetings of companies he owns, sources told Reuters, which added that confidants of Masri have said he was warned not to travel to Saudi Arabia after the mass arrests last month.
Khreisheh blamed Masri’s detention on bin Salman. “Internally he’s sending a message that he’s the most powerful man in Saudi Arabia, and to the outside he’s saying he has many cards to pressure Arab people and countries.”
Bin Salman “is doing bad things for his country and all Arabs,” Khreisheh said.
In Jordan, Masri’s detention prompted social media users to write that Saudi Arabia was trying to pressure King Abdullah on the Jerusalem issue, in which the Jordanian monarch has strongly supported the Palestinian position of completely rejecting US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “Reaction has been very strong,” said Jordan Times columnist Daoud Kuttab. “People felt this was aimed at the Jordanian economy and that whoever was behind it was trying to shake the Jordanian economy because of Jordan’s position on Jerusalem.”
But Kuttab said he differed with that interpretation and did not think the detention was political. “It doesn’t make sense to take it out on a businessman. How is he going to affect the politics? I would assume that what happened was that someone was being questioned and said why isn’t [Masri] being questioned?”
Ghassan Khatib, a former PA minister and currently a vice president of Bir Zeit University, also doubted Masri’s detention amounted to political pressure. “Pressure for what?” he asked. “The conspiracy theory is that the Saudis are promoting the American proposal and are putting pressure on Jordan and the Palestinians to accept what the Americans want. This is crazy because the Americans have no proposal yet and Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Palestinians are on the same page. It’s more logical to assume that this is connected to the campaign against Saudi businessmen. We’ve seen detentions of many top businessmen and he is a top businessman and a Saudi citizen. It makes sense to assume it’s related to financial things.”