A Relatively Quiet Nakba Day, Thanks to the Palestinian Prisoners

Both Israel and the Palestinians had a stake in bringing an end to the hunger strikes, although none of it would have been possible without the help of members of Egyptian intelligence.

A few conclusions could be drawn from the hunger strike by the Palestinian security prisoners, which ended on Monday:

Israel's gain: Israel had an interest in ending the hunger strike for two reasons. The first one was that a hunger strike could potentially lead to the death of one of the prisoners. The Palestinian struggle would gain one more martyr, increasing the likelihood of violent clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel's ability to neutralize the situation, just hours before Nakba Day, minimized the probability and intensity of a clash. In accordance with early estimations in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, most of the protests and confrontations with the IDF in checkpoints near Ramallah were relatively quiet, with no loss of life reported.

Israel's other interest had to do with a agreement that nine representatives of the prisoner leadership signed, in which they pledged a rare commitment to refrain from promoting terror from within their prison cells. The commitment is anchored in a document which shows that the leadership recognizes that Israel may renew sanctions against the prisoners, should they renege on their promises.

The operation of terror cells from prison has caused the Shin Bet a constant headache, as attempts by imprisoned terrorists is often translated into ambitious initiatives outside of prisons. It is known that agreements can be violated, especially when at hand are different factions with changing interests. But at least, for now, there is a latent chance for a quiet, short-lived as it may be. The Palestinian Authority, which itself was involved in the talks, has an interest in quiet. Hamas' consent to the agreement reflects a desire to progress, at least at this point, in civilian activities through a civilian-religious infrastructure in the West Bank that the organization wants to rehabilitate after years of abuse on the part of the local authorities.

The Palestinian decision: The prisoner leadership did not arrive at this deal from a place of weakness. Perhaps the opposite is true. The agreement with the Israel Prison Services is no small feat for the leaders of the factions in prison, which were able to force the state to improve their conditions. For the first time in five years, the prisoners will be able to receive visits from their close family members, and prisoners held in solitary confinement will no longer be held in such conditions.

From the Palestinian point of view, this is further proof of the strength of "soft power." A highly-publicized, nonviolent struggle with significant international backing forced Israel to make concessions on issues deemed essential to the prisoners. Israel finds it difficult to deal with these struggles, as was proven by the incident with IDF officer Shalom Eisner, who slammed the butt of his rifle into the face of a pro-Palestinian protester last month. The use of terror has not been done away with, but more and more Palestinians understand the power and influence of softer means, which gain the sympathy of the West.

Egypt's success: Like the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal which took place last October or the last round of fighting in the Gaza Strip in March, Cairo was used as a mediator between the two sides. The deal, which brought about an end to the long-term hunger strikes, is listed as an achievement of the head of Egyptian intelligence. It is important that the temporary rule of the generals transmits to the international community that is has not lost its power in the region, and that it can still bear influence, despite the fall of the Mubarak regime.

Israel has a special interest in keeping this tie, since it assists it in indirect contacts with different Palestinian factions (especially with Hamas), and maintains its unstable relations with the Egyptian leadership, at least until Egypt's upcoming presidential elections. It is no coincidence that a statement released by the Shin Bet emphasized Egypt's role in the mediation. According to reports in the Arab media, the negotiations were accompanied by visits of high-profile members of the Egyptian intelligence to Israel, and most likely on Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen's visits to Cairo. One can assume that the deal is just part of a larger story, which may bring the release of imprisoned Israeli citizen Odeh Tarabin. Several stories have been published over the last days which deal with Tarabin's release in exchange for tens of Egyptians still imprisoned in Israel.

Read this article in Hebrew