Abbas at PLO meeting in West Bank 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokma)
Once again, the Palestinian Authority is using the issue of Palestinian
prisoners to unleash a wave of strong condemnations against Israel.
the PA, the death of a Palestinian in an Israeli prison is a golden opportunity
to bring the case of Palestinian prisoners to the world’s attention.
the past few years, the PA leadership has placed the issue of the prisoners at
the top of its list of priorities.
The release of Palestinian prisoners
has even become one of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s conditions for resuming
peace talks with Israel.
Until recently, Abbas had set only two
conditions for returning to the negotiating table: a full cessation of
settlement construction and Israeli recognition of the pre-1967 lines as the
future borders of a Palestinian state.
Abbas has been forced to move the
issue of the prisoners to the top of his list of priorities mainly due to
increased pressure and criticism from the Palestinian public.
raised the issue during his last meeting in Ramallah with President Barack
Obama. The Palestinians also handed Obama a letter from the prisoners urging the
US to exert pressure on Israel to secure their release.
Hardly a day
passes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip without a demonstration or rally in
solidarity with the prisoners.
PA-controlled media outlets have also been
reporting extensively on the conditions of the prisoners, interviewing their
family members on a regular basis and urging the PA leadership to work harder to
secure their release.
Many Palestinians have also been criticizing Abbas
and his aides for failing to do more to end the “plight” of the inmates, whom
they consider “prisoners of war.” Some have gone as far as accusing the PA
leadership of turning its back on the prisoners and their families.
bid to prove to Palestinians that it is taking the issue seriously, the PA
leadership has set up a ministry for prisoners affairs headed by Issa Qaraqi,
who in the past few years has been waging a relentless campaign against Israel
on the issue of the prisoners.
Qaraqi has consistently accused Israel of
mistreating and torturing Palestinian prisoners.
He has also accused
Israel of conducting experiments on some prisoners and denying them proper
medical care, as well as stealing their organs.
When Palestinian prisoner
Arafat Jaradat died in Israeli custody earlier this year, Qaraqi and other PA
officials were quick to blame Israel.
They claimed that Jaradat died as a
result of torture – a charge that has been strongly denied by Israel.
Tuesday, following the death of prisoner Maissara Abu Hamdiyeh due to terminal
cancer, Qaraqi and many PA officials again rushed to issue strong condemnations
This time they claimed that Abu Hamdiyeh had been denied
medical treatment – a claim that, again, has been rejected by Israel – and
demanded a special commission of inquiry.
The strong attacks on Israel
are primarily aimed at showing the Palestinian public that the PA leadership
does care about the prisoners.
But these attacks are also intensifying
tensions between Israel and the Palestinians and paving the way for
By making serious allegations against Israel, the PA is further
radicalizing Palestinians and even driving some of them into the open arms of
Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
When and if the PA leadership decides to resume
peace talks with Israel, Abbas and his representatives will be denounced by many
enraged Palestinians as traitors and collaborators.
circumstances, it’s hard to see how Abbas would be able to return to the
negotiating table, even if Israel were to freeze construction in the
settlements, because the Palestinians would demand that Abbas first fulfill his
promise of seeking the release of all prisoners.