Palestinian Authority, Fatah Torn Over How to Deal With Protests for Prisoners

Despite Abbas's wishes, young Fatah activists believe escalation in the territories could actually help make clear to Trump that the Palestinian public will not remain apathetic to its prisoners

A Palestinian protester near the West Bank settlement of Beit El, April 23, 2017.
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP

The demonstrations that have taken place throughout the West Bank in recent days in support of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israel have sparked a debate within the Palestinian Authority and its ruling Fatah party over which way to steer the protest.

So far, the PA and its security services have refrained from interfering with the rallies, fearing that could spark an escalation.

A senior Fatah official close to the security services told Haaretz that PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who has begun preparing for his visit to Washington on May 3, would like to keep the territories calm prior to his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. But young Fatah activists believe that escalation in the territories could actually help make clear to Trump that the Palestinian public will not remain apathetic to its prisoners.

“A mass movement like Fatah can’t be indifferent to developments on the Palestinian street regarding the prisoners,” said Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Society. “Neither the PA nor the security services can be opposed, though of course everything depends on developments within the prisons.

“Don’t forget that the Palestinian street is also attentive to statements coming from Israel, and there’s no doubt this is contributing to the tension,” he added. “If Israel doesn’t want the situation to worsen, it ought to open a dialogue with the prisoners’ leadership.”

Israel Prison Service officials denied last week that hunger-striking prisoners are being prevented from seeing their lawyers. But both Fares’ organization and the PLO’s commission on prisoner affairs say that many lawyers have been unable to visit hunger-striking clients in recent days, and especially leaders of the strike.

Attorney Tameem Younis told Haaretz he wasn’t allowed into Kishon Prison on Sunday to visit his brother, Karim Younis, and Marwan Barghouti, two of the leaders of the hunger strike. After waiting six hours, he said, he was told that the two prisoners were unable to meet with him for medical reasons, but was given no information on their condition.

The Prison Service said it “complies with the law and the regulations.”

On Sunday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the government was following “a resolute and responsible policy in accordance with international norms, not terrorists’ dictates.”