Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir clashed on the issue of the conditions of Palestinian prisoners during a meeting on Sunday evening, as members of the defense establishment warned of an escalation during the High Holy Days.
The meeting was held after Ben-Gvir announced a decision last week to restrict the visits of families of Palestinian prisoners to once every two months, with Netanyahu stating shortly afterward that no such decision was made. Ben-Gvir subsequently claimed that he was simply enforcing the law and that the decision would be implemented regardless.
During the meeting, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Ghasan Alyan warned that "if the issue of the prisoners is not pushed off to after the holidays, the High Holy Days will not look the same for the citizens of Israel."
The head of the Shin Bet warned as well "There are those who want a violation of the status quo and there are those who will have to respond in such a case. Provocations are expected in the Arab sector and it will also be more convenient for the Prime Minister in the US without changing the status quo here."
Ben-Gvir responded that "in the US they will teach us how to treat prisoners. Let's learn from them how they treat prisoners."
IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi added "There is a lot of gasoline on the floor, we have to take the matches. Civilian lives are more important than changing the conditions of people who are already in prisons. The issue of prisoners should be discussed after the holidays because of that."
The national security minister responded that he wants to change the conditions of prisoners "precisely because civilian lives come first."
"The terrorists in the prisons are returning to conduct attacks, the concept has failed - the emperor is naked. When they are there it is not bad for them and it pays to go back to murder. Every time it's not the right time, and now of course it's probably not the right time, give me one time you said it was the right time. People are being murdered here and you never said this was the right time."
'Don't interfere with my ministry'
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant complained that "it cannot be that after a decision was reached on Thursday and it was agreed to hold a discussion about the prisoners, Ben-Gvir makes a decision on his own."
Ben-Gvir responded "this is a law that we are enforcing. Deal with your ministry, I'll deal with mine. Don't interfere with my ministry."
"You all always bring up the Temple Mount, prisoners, and consolidating fronts," said Ben-Gvir to the other officials present at the meeting. "Every time it is forbidden to touch the prisoners because it can cause agitation, so their conditions must never be changed, they are sacred cows. Mr. prime minister, they are in better conditions than the hotel you were in."
Netanyahu replied: "I had torches and horns there," with Ben-Gvir adding that "in the prison there is a sweets bar and lamb."
Last week, the Supreme Emergency Committee for Palestinian Prisoners announced that Palestinian prisoners would launch a hunger strike starting on September 14 in response to Ben-Gvir's insistence on changing the visit policies for prisoners.
"We demand an end to all decisions and policies taken in order to restrict us and the conditions of our lives, as well as the return of all that was robbed of our rights during the past period."
"This aggression requires us, the prisoners, and our people, to stand up to it and prepare for this real confrontation with an enemy lurking around us."
After the meeting on Sunday, Ben-Gvir's office stressed that his decision on the matter of visits to prisoners was based on an existing law, but that an agreement had been reached to allow the attorney general to decide on the matter.
Netanyahu's office stated after the meeting that "a decision on the issue of security prisoners will be made exclusively by the prime minister and the cabinet."
Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.