Israel agrees to deal that ends Palestinian hunger strike
Egyptian involved in mediating the deal says Israel agrees to ease conditions for prisoners • Likud MK Danny Danon: The deal is a "serious mistake" and a "prize for terrorism" • Israel to transfer 100 bodies of terrorists to PA.
Daniel Siryoti, Itsik Saban, Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff
Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails agreed on Monday to an Egyptian-brokered deal aimed at ending a mass hunger strike that challenged Israel's policy of detention without trial and raised fears of a bloody Palestinian backlash if any protesters died. Most of some 1,600 prisoners, a third of the 4,800 Palestinians in Israeli jails, began refusing food on April 17 although a few had been fasting much longer, up to 77 days.
Their protest centered on demands for more family visits, an end to solitary confinement and an end to so-called "administrative detention", a practice that has drawn international criticism on human rights grounds.
Palestinian officials said Egypt had drafted an agreement in Cairo with representatives of the Palestinian prisoners, and that inmates met during the day and had agreed to the terms.
There was no immediate word from the prisoners as to whether any had actually ended their strike.
An Egyptian official involved in the talks said that under Monday's deal to end the strike, Israel had agreed to end solitary confinement for 19 prisoners and lifted a ban on visits to prisoners by relatives living in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Israel also agreed to improve other conditions of detention, and to free so-called administrative detainees once they completed their terms unless they were brought to court, the Egyptian official said.
Gaza's Hamas leaders hailed the strike as a successful campaign against Israel and celebrations quickly spread to the streets where motorists honked horns, and passersby embraced and shouted "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for "God is great."
"This is a first step toward liberation and victory," said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the Islamist group.
Israel saw the deal as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who holds sway in the West Bank, a territory separate from Islamist-ruled Gaza.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel had "negotiated an end to the strike" in response to a request from Abbas.
"It is our hope that this gesture by Israel will serve to build confidence between the parties and to further peace," Regev said.
The hunger strikers included terrorists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which reject peace with Israel, as well as members of Abbas' Fatah group.
Following the announcement of the deal, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh welcomed the end of the hunger strike and said, "We proved once again that our brave warriors have defeated the Zionist enemy even within prison."
The Israel Prison Service confirming the deal, saying, “An agreement has been signed to bring about the end of a 28-day hunger strike by Palestinian security prisoners."
In a statement, the service said prisoners who signed a commitment "not to engage in actions contravening security inside the jails" would have prison conditions eased, including the lifting of solitary confinement and the possibility of relatives visiting from Gaza. Relatives' visits from Gaza were suspended after Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit was abducted by Palestinian terrorists and taken to Gaza in 2006. He was released last October in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Israel did not say whether it would free any administrative detainees, but pledged in its statement that an interministerial team would look at prisoner requests and issue recommendations. Around 320 Palestinian prisoners are held in "administrative detention," a security measure Israel defends.
Many of the other prisoners have been convicted of serious crimes, including murder. Palestinian leaders say they should be treated as prisoners of war, something Israel rejects.
Israel says the detentions without trial are necessary because some cases cannot be brought to open court for fear of exposing Palestinian intelligence sources who have cooperated with Israel.
Two inmates who helped to launch the strike, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahla of Islamic Jihad, were in the 77th day of their fast on Monday. Last week, Israel's Supreme Court turned down their request to be freed from detention without trial but said security authorities should consider releasing them for medical reasons.
A month ago, Israel released hunger striker Khader Adnan, an Islamic Jihad member, amid concern he would die. He agreed to end his fast after 66 days in exchange for a promise not to renew his detention.
Likud MK Danny Danon called the deal to end the hunger strike a "prize for terrorism" in an interview with Israel Radio on Tuesday morning.
"[The deal] is a serious mistake that we will have to pay for," Danon said. "The commitment signed by the prisoners to refrain from terrorist activities from within jail is not worth the paper it was written on."
Danon told Israel Radio that "the decision to continue with the 'summer camp' for security prisoners is outrageous and conveys a weakness which invites more pressure and demands from Israel."
The deal was coordinated by Netanyahu's special envoy for peace talks, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, who met with Abbas in Ramallah on Saturday. The prime minister's military secretary, Maj. Gen. Yohanan Locker, and officials from Jordan and Egypt were also involved in negotiating the deal. The official purpose of Molcho's visit to Ramallah was to deliver a special letter to Abbas outlining Israel's position on peace talks. However, it was later revealed that the envoy also brought with him the agreement reached between both sides to end the hunger strike.
Netanyahu on Monday also approved the transfer of some 100 bodies of Palestinian terrorists buried in Israel to their families in the Palestinian territories.
The Prime Minister's Office said the move was designed to "facilitate confidence-building [with the Palestinians] out of a desire to renew dialogue with [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas."
This highlights why my position on talks with the enemy are something that Israel should not engage in.
We always loose.
But to be an honest and truthful individual, I must say that this time we deserved to loose.
Administrative Detention, is wrong.
People deserve a trial, not to be held without charges because they may do something wrong.
I am no weak kneed liberal, I have at times called for more killings of terrorist.
But if a person has not taken steps towards an act of terrorism, but we think they may.
Do we really do ourselves any good by grabbing them off the street and holding them without charges?
If they are taking steps toward terrorism, then kill them.
But to hold a person without charges in my book is immoral.