(photo credit: AP [file])
Annapolis seemed barely one step away from the Sharon-area Hadarim Prison Sunday when a visit by the Knesset Interior Committee to the Israel Prisons Service facility provided a stage for a conversation between MKs and jailed Fatah activist and Tanzim head Marwan Barghouti.
"The release [of Palestinian prisoners] tomorrow is a joke. The majority of the prisoners would have been released anyway in the next few months. It is possible to release thousands of prisoners and not just 400. Abu Mazen asked for more, but they wouldn't let him have any more," Barghouti answered in response to a question asked by committee chairman MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor).
In response to a question from MK Moshe Gafni about Barghouti's impression as to the end of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the former Tanzim leader replied that "the end of the conflict is very close. There just needs to be a brave leader to sign. If there will be a final-status agreement, they will also respect the solution of two states for two people in Gaza. I think that we are standing now directly before the solution."
Barghouti was not the only high-profile security prisoner who received the parliamentary delegation Sunday. Jailed Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, whose release has been sought by Hizbullah, was also visited by the group, which included Paz-Pines and Gafni as well as MKs Nadia Hilou, Moshe Kahalon, Ibrahim Sarsour and Ya'akov Margi.
Samir Kuntar told the committee members that "the IPS treatment is humane and is based on a relationship of mutual respect." But in answer to Gafni's question as to whether he regrets his actions, he responded: "I do not regret. The question isn't personal. It's a matter of a conflict that is collective."
In addition to the rare opportunity for conversation with infamous security prisoners, the committee members also received an extensive overview of the IPS and its various services and organizational goals.
In March 2009, Kaniak said, the first privately-owned prison in Israel will be opened outside of Beersheba. "America has been in a privatization process over the past eight years, in the course of which the prison population multiplied five times over and now stands at 2.5 million prisoners," he explained.
As for the already-existing prisons within the IPS system, Kaniak complained that some are "not appropriate for human habitation." This year, he said, NIS 20 million will be invested in improving some of the oldest wings in the system. "In mid-2007, we promised the Supreme Court that no prisoners will remain without a bed of their own," he noted. According to Kaniak, approximately 50% of Israel's prison population are Jewish. The chief warden added that he believed that Israeli courts punished Jews and non-Jews inequitably.
"It's inconceivable that a person under administrative detention whose guilt hasn't been determined by any court should be held in the same conditions as convicted murderers," said Pines in response.
One ray of optimism poked through the day's statistics at the Ofek Youth Prison, where IPS officials presented data indicating that although 100% of the juvenile prisoners were diagnosed with learning disorders, 98% of the juvenile prisoners who took their matriculation exams passed them.
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