Netanyahu deflects Ben Gvir bid to harshen conditions of security prisoners

Defiant national security minister insists his office has final say, after PM sides with security establishment and pushes off decision on minimizing visitation rights

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sept. 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sept. 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided Sunday to postpone a decision on National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s initiative to harshen conditions for Palestinian security prisoners until after Jewish High Holidays.

According to Hebrew media, Ben Gvir requested to meet with the premier one-on-one in an attempt to convince him to support his position that family visitation rights for Palestinian security prisoners should go down from visits once a month to visits once every two months. In the meeting, Netanyahu reportedly refused to support Ben Gvir, after which the national security minister put out a statement that his policy will be implemented regardless.

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

The PMO then put out a statement responding to Ben Gvir, saying that “the decision on the issue of security prisoners will be made only by the prime minister and the cabinet.”

The far-right Ben Gvir met with Netanyahu prior to a meeting later in the day with the heads of the security agencies on arrangements for the Jewish High Holidays in the upcoming month. The heads of the security establishment have adamantly opposed Ben Gvir’s proposals to harshen the conditions of Palestinian security prisoners.

According to Channel 12, it is believed that during the meeting the security heads all called for maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount throughout the High Holidays an refraining from worsening the conditions of the Palestinian security prisoners.

The Channel 12 report added that, prior to the meeting, Ben Gvir responded to repeated rebuffs from the prime minister’s inner circle on the prisoner issue, saying that he would be willing to delay changing imprisonment conditions until after a discussion on the matter was held by the security cabinet. “I hope that the security establishment will provide diverse opinions and not one consensual opinion,” the Otzma Yehudit leader reportedly said.

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leading a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Last month, Ben Gvir declared that Palestinian prisoners jailed for security offenses would be permitted family visits only once every two months, reducing the previous allowance of monthly visits. He noted that this was in accordance with official regulations, though these have been slackened over the years.

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.

In addition to tightening family visits, Ben Gvir is planning additional steps against security prisoners, including reducing the types of shampoo available to inmates, restricting access to some television channels, cutting back on time allowed in the prison yard and limiting the availability of lamb meat, Channel 12 reported last week.

Palestinian security prisoners declared last month their intention to start a hunger strike in protest of the new restrictions. The prisoners indicated that the strike would commence on September 14.

Senior US officials told Channel 12 that they are concerned about Ben Gvir’s plans to change the status quo regarding prisoners and have conveyed this message to Israeli counterparts.

Tensions have been high amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis and months of raids by Israeli security forces into West Bank Palestinian towns to arrest terror suspects, as well as rising settler attacks on Palestinians.

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