With Palestinian Prisoner Strike, Barghouti Challenges Abbas' Leadership

[Amid outrage, NY Times issues correction to Barghouti op-ed]

Will a Palestinian hunger strike rain on Trump’s peace plans?

By Amos Harel, HAARETZ

Protesters hold portraits of Palestinian prisoners during a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah to show their support to Palestinians detained in Israeli jails after hundred of them launched a hunger strike on April 17, 2017. More than 1,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails launched a hunger strike following a call from Palestinian leader and prominent prisoner Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian Authority official said. / AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI

The hunger strike that nearly 1,200 Palestinian security prisoners in Israel began on Monday is expected to ratchet up the tensions between Israel and the Palestinians in the coming days. If complications occur and the strike lasts for an extended time, it is liable to take over the security and diplomatic agenda at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is declaring its intention to restart the peace process.

However, like another crisis that escalated in recent days over the supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip, it appears that the background to the strike has to do with intra-Palestinian power struggles as much as it has to do with the struggle against Israel.

The hunger strike is basically the initiative of a single person, Marwan Barghouti, the highest-ranking Fatah prisoner in Israel. The media attention from a prolonged strike will serve him in his moves vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority leadership, which is officially supporting the strike but in actuality is concerned about any outcome that could advance the standing of the imprisoned leader, who is not especially liked by President Mahmoud Abbas and his people. Barghouti already took credit for an initial success on Monday with an Op-Ed in The New York Times. (For some reason, the editors of the newspaper omitted from the publication the reason Barghouti is in prison: He was arrested and tried in 2002 for dispatching terrorists to carry out attacks at the height of the second intifada in which five Israeli civilians were killed. The piece has since been amended with an editor’s note amid a wave of heavy criticism.)

Abbas is slated to visit the White House at the beginning of next month. At the end of May, the month of Ramadan will begin. These are two target dates. If the strike continues until then, it could mean a serious crisis. The longer the strike lasts, the more likely it is that there will be complications: hospitalization of hunger strikers, dilemmas concerning force-feeding and the danger of prisoners dying, which could inflame the mood in the Palestinian territories.

Barghouti has put together various prisoner demands – cancellation of administrative detentions, more family visitation hours, renewal of academic studies, more television channels – as a broad common denominator around which most of the prisoners and most of the Palestinian organizations can unite around. Hamas, whose top people are acting in close coordination with Barghouti, has announced its partial support. About one third of Fatah prisoners have joined the strike. On Monday, thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank participated in solidarity rallies marking Palestinian Prisoners Day. In both these cases, the numbers are quite high, but not yet extraordinarily so.

The main demands of the hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners.ABBAS MOMANI/AFP
The main demands of the hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners.

On the Israeli side, there is Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s declared intention not to conduct any negotiations with the prisoners and not to accede to any demand, which has the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. In the past, such determination melted away as the strikes grew longer and things became complicated. However, it is possible that in the current political reality, Erdan does not have much real wiggle room and will have to demonstrate toughness. In any case, this is a crisis that will necessitate close management by top government officials and the defense establishment for fear of repercussions outside the prison walls.

Nevertheless, it appears that Barghouti and other strike organizers will face two obstacles in their attempt to leverage the move. The first has to do with the level of international attention on the strike. With hundreds of people being slaughtered in horrific acts of terror in Syria’s Aleppo and Idlib, it will be hard for the Palestinian prisoners to enlist the Arab world’s empathy and even its attention for their struggle. Without belittling the difficulties the prisoners face, it cannot be ignored that there have been cases in recent years of youngsters from Gaza crossing into Israel with improvised weapons because they believe that conditions in Israeli prison are preferable to life in the Strip.
Abbas’ threats

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, Jordan, Wednesday, March 29, 2017. Raad Adayleh/AP

Meanwhile, the electricity crisis in Gaza is back on. The Hamas government has once again limited the electricity supply, which is now available for only about six hours a day. The backdrop is an economic struggle with the Palestinian Authority over the question of who will pay the excise on the diesel fuel brought in from Israel to the Gaza power station, which the electricity supply depends on. Until the beginning of April the excise was funded by Qatari aid, but now the Palestinian Authority has announced that it refuses to continue funding the payment.

This decision follows another move by Abbas: a 30 percent pay cut for PA employees who live in the Strip. The Palestinian leader has said recently that he is fed up with the 10 years of economic aid he has been giving the Hamas government in Gaza without getting anything in return. The PA is also threatening that if Hamas does not yield authority to it in the Gaza Strip, including responsibility for the border crossing points and security activity, it will entirely cease its monetary transfers to the enclave. It is doubtful that these threats will be carried out in full, but they do reflect an attempt by Abbas to take a more aggressive line towards Hamas and its new leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar.

As in the Barghouti matter, this power struggle is far from ending. However, in this case too, both Palestinian sides are directing much of the blame at the Israeli occupation. The Gaza Strip is still managing to survive and function, even with the impossibility of electricity working only one quarter of the time. However, prolonging the crisis could once again contribute to tensions with Israel as well, even in a period when Hamas, for its own reasons, looks as though it is making a considerable effort to rein in the Salafist organizations’ rocket fire at Israeli communities on Gaza’s borders.

April 18, 2017 | Comments Off on With Palestinian Prisoner Strike, Barghouti Challenges Abbas' Leadership | 53 views

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  1. Is this your comment, Ted? If so, you should put it in brackets and add your initials so that is clear, optionally in bold or different font.

    (For some reason, the editors of the newspaper omitted from the publication the reason Barghouti is in prison: He was arrested and tried in 2002 for dispatching terrorists to carry out attacks at the height of the second intifada in which five Israeli civilians were killed. The piece has since been amended with an editor’s note amid a wave of heavy criticism.)

    Also, the facts are worse. Much worse. He wasn’t tried in 2002 for murdering five people, he was tried for murdering 38 people, leading dozens of attacks that murdered hundreds of people, and being Arafat’s terror lieutenant and paymaster general but they were only able to secure a conviction for five murders and one charge of attempted murder, membership in a terror organization and conspiracy to commit a crime. He was given multiple life sentences. He should have been sentenced to death. He has continued his activities from prison and, watch, if he defeats Abbas from prison, the EU will turn him into Mandela.

    Haaretz’s own article at the time — which I enclosed in the comments under the other piece about this in today’s Israpundit:

    ““Barghouti Convicted in Deaths of Five People
    Reuters and Roni Singer Haaretz Service May 20, 2004 12:00 AM

    The Tel Aviv District Court convicted former West Bank Tanzim commander Marwan Barghouti in the deaths of five people on Thursday.
    Barghouti was convicted of three terror attacks in which the five were murdered, as well as in another charge of attempted murder, membership in a terror organization and conspiring to commit a crime.
    However, the court acquitted him of 33 other murders with which he was charged, noting that there was no evidence that he was a full partner to those incidents.
    The prosecution on Thursday was seeking to sentence Barghouti to five life terms.
    Meanwhile, Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv after Barghouti’s hearing, holding up a poster of terror victims killed by Palestinians in the last few years.
    The court said in its verdict that “the defendant most of the time did not have direct contact with the field operatives who carried out the attacks. That connection was maintained through associates close to the defendant. Barghouti was responsible for providing the field units with money and arms via these associates.”The court ruled that Barghouti was directly responsible for a January 2002 terror attack on a gas station in Givat Zeev in which Israeli Yoela Chen was murdered. The attack, the judges said, was carried out at his direct order in revenge for the assassination of Raed Carmi. Barghouti had admitted his responsibility for this attack.
    The attack in which a Greek monk was murdered in Ma’aleh Adumim on June of 2001 was also carried out at the instruction of Barghouti, the judges said.
    The former Tanzim leader, the court ruled, also approved the March 2002 attack at Tel Aviv’s Seafood Market restaurant in which three people were murdered, as well as a car bomb attack in Jerusalem.
    The judges said Barghouti’s orders for terror attacks were sometimes “based on instructions” from Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.
    “Arafat would never give explicit instructions for attacks but he let it be known when the timing was right,” the judges said.
    “He made sure his subordinates understood very well when he was interested in a cease-fire and when he was interested in terror attacks against Israel,” the verdict said.
    Barghouti, 43, was charged with leading dozens of terror operations against Israeli targets since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising, including suicide and shooting attacks that led to the death and injury of hundreds of Israeli citizens and Israel Defense Force soldiers.
    According to the charge sheet, Barghouti headed the Fatah, Tanzim and Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade terror groups in the West Bank and was subordinate to Arafat. Barghouti, who refused a lawyer, represented himself throughout his trial, which began in August 2003.
    The state prosecutor said Barghouti funded and planned terror attacks and is not the political activist he claimed to be. Court security personnel were deployed in increased numbers Thursday morning. Barghouti’s supporters in the European parliament were expected to show up for the ruling.
    Seized by Israel in 2002, Barghouti denied orchestrating attacks against Israelis. He has expressed pride in resistance to Israeli occupation while declaring his opposition to what he called “the killing of innocents”.
    Supporters said if Barghouti was found guilty, it would bolster him even more among the Palestinian public, where he is second only in popularity to Arafat.”

    read more: http://www.haaretz.com/news/barghouti-convicted-in-deaths-of-five-people-1.123019“

  2. @Ted Belman

    Oh, I see, I misread. Apologies. The parens is the Haaretz author’s comment about the NYT piece. But, my criticism still holds. He should read his own paper’s piece. He wasn’t merely tried but convicted of the five and one attempted, he was tried for committing 38 murders and facilitating hundreds of others, but acquitted for lack of evidence on the other charges.

  3. :
    British bookmakers will let you pick any one of those Arab security prisoners and offer you 6:1 odds that he can’t outlast Bobby Sands (66 days).

    10:1 says nobody will strike beyond 80 days.

    1,100:1 says you can’t pick the last man standing (minimum 250 deaths).

  4. According to articles on the web, the legal precedent for hunger striking prisoners is to force feed them after so many days. In the US this means sticking a tube down their throats and stuffing mashed prison meals down them. It can be left in for at least 2 days. Maybe the prison should show the prisoners videos of the procedure, assuming it the same way it’s done in Israel. I wonder how many would fold and give up the strike if they knew what wlll happen to them.

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