In a surprise move, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday fired Issa Qaraqe, head of the PLO’s Committee for Detainees and Ex-Detainees.
The dismissal of Qaraqe, who held the rank of minister, drew sharp criticism from Palestinians across the political spectrum.
Qaraqe himself is a former security prisoner.
On Friday, Abbas appointed a special committee to administer the Committee for Detainees and Ex-Detainees, a body that is in charge of Palestinian security prisoners held in Israeli prison. The new committee is headed by Kadri Abu Baker, a member of the ruling Fatah faction’s Revolutionary Council.
Last Thursday, Abbas surprised Palestinians by appointing long-time PA presidency spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh as deputy prime minister
and minister of information.
Earlier, Abbas appointed veteran Fatah official Nabil Sha’ath as chairman of the PLO’s Committee for Palestinian Refugees in the Diaspora – a position that was held by Tayseer Khaled, a senior official with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).
The DFLP condemned the decision, saying it “undermines the prestige, credibility and respect of the PLO.”
No official reason was given for the decision to fire Qaraqe, who is hugely popular among Palestinian security prisoners and their families.
Some Palestinians pointed out that the decision to fire Qaraqe was taken under pressure from Jibril Rajoub, a senior Fatah official and chairman of the Palestinian Football Association.
Rajoub, who previously headed the PA’s Preventive Security Service in the West Bank, is reported to have been enraged because he was not interviewed as part of a documentary produced by Qaraqe’s committee on the 1980 hunger strike in Nafha Prison in the Negev.
According to a Palestinian source in Ramallah, Rajoub complained to Qaraqe that he should have been interviewed for the documentary because he was one of the leaders of the 32-day hunger strike that began on July 14, 1980.
The source said that Rajoub – who spent 17 years in prison before he was released in a 1985 prisoner swap between Israel and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine- General Command terrorist group headed by Ahmed Jibril – threatened to “destroy” Qaraqe and his committee for excluding him from the documentary.
Qaraqe, the source said, claimed that the producers of the documentary had repeatedly tried to arrange an interview with Rajoub, but to no avail.
HOWEVER, OTHER Palestinians said over the weekend that the decision to dismiss Qaraqe was linked to growing US and Israeli pressure on the PA leadership to halt payments to security prisoners and families of Palestinians killed in attacks on Israel.
They noted that Qaraqe had recently declared his opposition to the PA government’s economic sanctions against the Gaza Strip that include, among other things, halting payments to former security prisoners living in the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave.
“It’s naive to assume that the minister for Palestinian prisoners affairs was fired because of an argument with Jibril Rajoub,” Amjad Abu Latifeh, a security prisoner, wrote in an article published by the Amad news website.
“The decision is purely political and it was expected in wake of the growing American and Israeli pressure on President Abbas to halt payments to prisoners and families of martyrs.
Abbas has been gradually complying with these demands.”
Abu Latifeh pointed out that Abbas had canceled the PA Ministry for Prisoners Affairs a few years ago and replaced it with the Committee for Detainees and Ex-Detainees, which belongs to the PLO.
Abbas’s move was aimed at avoiding accusations that the PA government was using US and EU funds to reward security prisoners and families of Palestinians who carried out terrorist attacks against Israelis.
Several Palestinian factions, including Hamas, criticized Abbas’s decision to fire Qaraqe and accused the PA leadership of bowing to American and Israeli pressure.
“This decision is an extension to the Palestinian Authority’s surrender to external dictates,” said Talal Abu Tharifeh, a senior official with the PLO’s DFLP. “The Palestinian Authority is standing against the prisoners by accepting orders from Washington and [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu.”
Rabah Muhana, a representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, another PLO group, condemned Abbas’s decision as “repressive.” The decision to fire Qaraqe is a “new repressive measure against anyone who opposes the policies of the Palestinian Authority,” he charged.
Hamas claimed that Qaraqe was fired because of his opposition to the PA government’s decision to halt payments to former security prisoners living in the Gaza Strip.
Senior Hamas official Musa Dudeen denounced the decision as a “blatant assault on the prisoners and their rights.” He claimed that Abbas’s decision was “consistent with the policy of undermining the steadfastness of our prisoners.”
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