In an op-ed piece in The New York Times Monday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan wrote that a massive hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners is really an internal political play by the popular Palestinian Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, a convicted murderer.
Erdan’s column rejected charges leveled two weeks ago by Barghouti in the same newspaper, in a piece that condemned “Israel’s illegal system of mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners.”
“Mr. Barghouti would like his audience to believe that the hunger strike is a reaction to the mistreatment of prisoners like him,” Erdan wrote. “In fact, it has nothing to do with their conditions, which meet international standards. This is reflected in the list of demands presented by Mr. Barghouti to the Israel Prison Service: the option to obtain university degrees, more family visits, access to more television channels, public telephones and private doctors.”
Rather, Erdan stated, “the true motivation behind this strike is political jockeying. From prison Mr. Barghouti has become a major player in Palestinian politics, releasing regular statements on Palestinian affairs and backing candidates in elections.”
Erdan argued that because the strike was about Fatah politics rather than the treatment of prisoners, Barghouti has gained no support from rival groups, including the Hamas terror organization.
“The hunger strike is another step in his campaign to position himself as Mr. Abbas’s successor,” he wrote. “The political nature of the strike is a main reason the leaders of Fatah’s rival, Hamas, have not backed the strike.”
Erdan said that despite attempts by Barghouti to rebrand himself as a “moderate” and Palestinian terrorism as “resistance,” Barghouti remains an unrepentant convicted murderer, responsible for the deaths of five people — Jewish, Christian and Druze.
He accused the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, of encouraging terrorism through incitement, and particularly through payments to the families of those who commit terror attacks.
Erdan called on the international community to put an end to incitement by ensuring the money does not reach terrorists.
“The billions of dollars in international aid enable the authority to continue lining the terrorists’ pockets with cash,” he wrote. “Both politicians and ordinary citizens must demand an end to this gross abuse of international funds.”
The New York Times took flak after publishing Barghouti’s op-ed for failing to note his murder convictions. Subsequently, the paper’s public editor, Liz Spayd, criticized the op-ed department, saying skimping on details of opinion writers’ biographical information is a repeated fault that discredits the paper.
A subsequent editor’s note on the piece acknowledged the omission.
Assaf Librati, a spokesman for the Israel Prison Service, said Monday that 870 prisoners are still on hunger strike, down from a peak of about 1,300 last week. Librati did not say why more than 400 prisoners had ended their fast.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.