PA grandstanding on prisoners self-defeating

Accusations of Israeli mistreatment are aimed at Palestinian public, but forced tension paves way to violence and forestalls peace talks

Abbas at PLO meeting in West Bank 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokma)
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.
For 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.
Over 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.
Abbas even 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.
In a 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.
On Tuesday, following the death of prisoner Maissara Abu Hamdiyeh due to terminal cancer, Qaraqi and many PA officials again rushed to issue strong condemnations against Israel.
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 violence.
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.
Under such 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.