Cabinet delays decision on Palestinian prisoner visits, despite Ben Gvir’s insistence

National security minister has proclaimed he has sole authority over decision but has been stymied by Netanyahu, who appears to be heeding security chiefs’ call to avoid escalation

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The Prime Minister’s Office announced on Tuesday that no imminent changes would be made in the rights and benefits of Palestinian prisoners, days after National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir proclaimed that his authority superseded that of the prime minister on the issue.

A statement from the PMO noted that following a “situation assessment” by the security cabinet, it had been decided to hold a further discussion in October on prisoners held for security offenses, and that “there will be no changes until this discussion is held.”

Ben Gvir — who has made restricting the rights of such prisoners a key goal since entering office — has been trying to convince Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the past few weeks to allow him to reduce the frequency of family visitation rights from once a month to once every two months.

Netanyahu is said to adamantly oppose the move, due to concerns voiced by security chiefs that such restrictions could lead to an escalation in Palestinian violence ahead of the holiday period. Prisoners have already threatened a hunger strike if such a decision is implemented.

On Sunday, Netanyahu and Ben Gvir held a rare one-on-one meeting to discuss the issue. Following their sit-down, multiple Hebrew media outlets carried comments sourced from the Prime Minister’s Office declaring that the conditions of security prisoners would not be changing before the holidays.

The comments angered Ben Gvir, who released his own statement that evening slamming the PMO-attributed remarks and vowing that his authority would prevail.

“Contrary to what the Prime Minister’s Office has been telling the media, the minister’s decision is based on Prison Service orders that possess the status of binding law,” Ben Gvir’s statement on Sunday read. “In the meeting, it was decided that the Prime Minister’s Office will request that the attorney general rule on the matter.”

While the official policy of the Prison Service designates visits to be allowed once every two months, over recent years monthly visits have been the norm. This was facilitated through collaborations with the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the Red Cross.

According to Kan news, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told the cabinet meeting on Tuesday that because of the sensitivities surrounding the conditions of Palestinian security prisoners, such a decision has always been made by the security cabinet and not the minister.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks at Tel Aviv University, September 28, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Ben Gvir reportedly accused the attorney general of not reading the law, and she retorted, “You really have to believe me that I read the law,” according to Kan. The minister was then said to respond that Baharav-Miara’s comments were “just a suggestion, you don’t get to decide.”

Nevertheless, the members of the security cabinet voted to delay any such decision until at least October.

Ben Gvir did not immediately issue any comment about that decision.

Though Ben Gvir’s ministry is responsible for internal security, Netanyahu is widely seen as distrusting his far-right police minister and has been said to often keep him out of key discussions with top security officials.

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