Israeli border guards barred Munib R. Masri, one of the wealthiest Palestinians, from entering the Gaza Strip after he helped broker the unity agreement aimed at healing the Palestinian Authority’s rift with Hamas.
Masri, chairman of Palestine Development & Investment Co., said he was blocked from entering Gaza by military order after waiting more than two hours at an Israeli crossing point. A spokesman for Israel’s Civil Administration, which runs the heavily guarded facility, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment by phone, e-mail and text message.
“It’s the first time this happened to me,” said Masri, 80, who said he has been shuttling between Gaza and the West Bank for seven years, trying to bridge the hostile conflict between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas leaders who rule Gaza. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.
Masri was present when Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas agreed in April to establish an interim cabinet for the West Bank and Gaza that is to yield to a new joint government in six months, following elections. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would no longer deal with Abbas because of the government’s Hamas backing, the U.S. and EU said they would because none of the cabinet members belong to Hamas.
Abbas pledged that the interim government would recognize Israel and abide by previous peace agreements even though Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction and has attacked the country with rockets and suicide bombers. Hamas violently ousted Fatah forces from Gaza in 2007 and set up its own government, leaving Abbas in control of the West Bank.
Masri said he was headed to Gaza today to meet business leaders and prepare for an investment conference on infrastructure. He said he’ll try again tomorrow.
“I’ve been working on the reconciliation talks for the last seven years, and while everybody told me it was impossible to get it done, thank God, we hammered this through now,” Masri said in a phone interview. “It is to the benefit of the Israeli people to have Palestinians speaking in one voice.”
As part of an effort to keep peace prospects alive, Masri joined with Israeli high-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi to put together Breaking the Impasse, a group that has grown to include about 300 Palestinian and Israeli business leaders. He also met with Secretary of State John Kerry during the latest round of U.S.-backed peace negotiations that collapsed in April.
Masri holds a 5.1 percent stake in publicly traded Padico, based in Amman, Jordan, which is the largest private investor in the West Bank and Gaza. This holding, along with his multinational Edgo Management Group SA engineering firm, give him a fortune of less than $300 million, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Masri has declined to share details about his wealth.