For one Palestinian-American, Trump peace efforts not hair-raising

Hossam Ezzedine
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Farouk Shami, a Palestinian-American beauty industry mogul, says he has known US President Donald Trump for nearly two decades,and he uses his products to sculpt his iconic hair

Farouk Shami, a Palestinian-American beauty industry mogul, says he has known US President Donald Trump for nearly two decades,and he uses his products to sculpt his iconic hair. (AFP Photo/ABBAS MOMANI)

Beitunia (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - In a time of intense Palestinian anger toward US President Donald Trump, at least one Palestinian-American remains optimistic that the US leader can offer hope.

Farouk Shami, a beauty industry mogul who said he has known Trump for nearly two decades, says the US president uses his products to sculpt his iconic hair.

He says the "great man" genuinely wants to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, despite a series of measures which have caused Palestinian fury.

"I believe that he is committed to peace in the Middle East, and especially in Palestine. There is a commitment," Shami, who lives near Houston, Texas, told AFP during a visit back to the occupied West Bank, where he was born.

"I am still hopeful that one day we will have peace, even while Trump is in position."

The multi-millionaire 76-year-old moved to the United States in 1965 and eventually set up Farouk Systems, which offers a range of high-end hair products.

He says he became friends with the future US president when sponsoring the then-Trump-owned Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants.

He eventually featured on Trump's Celebrity Apprentice reality show.

"We are still friends, although I don't agree with his political views concerning Palestine and concerning Jerusalem," Farouk, wearing a suit and cowboy boots with a dragon on them, said at his newly opened institute for hairdressers in the Palestinian town of Beitunia.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

- 'Peace in Palestine' -

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas cut ties with the Trump administration in December 2017, when the US leader broke with decades of international consensus and recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Palestinians want the eastern part of the disputed city as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Trump is expected to release his long-awaited plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace in the coming weeks.

Palestinian leaders have already dismissed it, saying they have no doubt it will be blatantly biased in favour of Israel.

Shami ran as a Democrat for governor of Texas in 2010 but says he has maintained a good relationship with Trump.

He says he had dinner with him and a group of American politicians a few months ago in Houston.

Farouk said Trump asked him how he was, to which he replied "business is good, but we need peace in Palestine".

"He said 'me too, I want peace in Palestine'."

Trump then asked after the health of 84-year-old Abbas.

"I said Abbas is wonderful and he wants peace and we all want peace. I said we love America and we want to be free like America. Then he switched the subject, asking me about Miss Universe."

Shami, who has both Palestinian Authority and American passports, says he has met Abbas and other Palestinian politicians in recent years.

But he said he doesn't want to become a political mediator between Palestinian and American leaders.

- 'Beautiful hair' -

Shami, who was visiting the West Bank to launch two new projects to train Palestinians in hairdressing and cosmetology, says both Trump and his wife Melania use his company's products.

The US leader's comb over hairstyle is globally famed and sometimes mocked, but Shami thinks it suits him.

"I think he has a beautiful hairstyle. He combs it and sprays it and it looks good on him," he said.

"Of course because his colour is light ... sometimes it looks orange" because of the reflection of the light, he said.

"But his hair looks good, believe me."

Born in the village of Beit Ur near Ramallah, he visits the West Bank twice a year.

He says he has spent tens of millions of dollars on projects in the Palestinian territories, including in the education and business sectors.

"My body is in America, my heart always in Palestine. I cannot get freedom to Palestine at this point but I think we need to build our economy."

In Beitunia, close to the city of Ramallah where Abbas is based, Shami last week opened an institute to train Palestinian hairdressers.

He is also funding a new beauty academy in Abu Dis, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

"We are not here to sell them products," he said.

"We are here to give them more education and more training so they can improve their income."