Palestinian Prison Minister: Abbas Trying to End Hunger Strike

'We are in a race against the clock and the health of the prisoners is getting worse and tension on Palestinian streets is rising and not only among the prisoners' families'

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas listens during a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels on Monday, March 27, 2017.
Virginia Mayo/AP

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is trying to apply pressure through international sources to put an end to the ongoing hunger strike of prisoners in Israel, Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Minister Issa Karaka said on Thursday.

According to Karaka, it's currently not possible to discuss serious negotiations to solve the crisis. "We are in a race against the clock and the health of the prisoners is getting worse and tension on Palestinian streets is rising and not only among the prisoners' families," he said.

Both Israel and the PA want to end the strike quickly because of U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to the region next week. The Palestinians have high hope for this visit. But should a crisis arise over the prisoners, with a striker being hospitalized or even dying during the visit, that could divert media attention to an issue the PA considers less beneficial for its purposes.

Abbas also has reason to seek the end of the strike as it is being led by one of his main political rivals, Marwan Barghouti who, despite being in prison, enjoys significant support across the West Bank.

In fact, both sides are for the first time showing signs of willingness to strike a deal.

Avi Issacharoff reported on the Walla news site on Monday that senior Palestinian Authority officials met recently with officials from Israel’s Shin Bet security service, who asked the Palestinians to help them explore ways to end the strike.

The number of participating prisoners has slowly declined. Today, about 850 prisoners are still striking, roughly two-thirds the number that began the strike. Most, about 700, are affiliated with Abbas’ Fatah party. But that number comprises only about 20 percent of the approximately 3,600 Fatah members jailed in Israel.

One of the prisoners’ main demands is the installation of public telephones in every cellblock so they can communicate freely with the outside world. This is a demand Israel vehemently opposes.