The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sparred publicly Friday with those of his police minister and a firebrand lawmaker from his own party, over the government’s policies toward Palestinian prisoners, as the PMO sought to tamp down the hardline positions espoused by his political allies.
Netanyahu’s office squabbled with that of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir over the latter’s latest restrictions on Palestinian prisoners, with the premier saying no decision had yet been made on enacting the ostensibly new limits on family visits, while the police minister insisted he had made the decision already and it would be applied forthwith.
Kan news reported that the National Security Council had instructed the relevant authorities not to follow the minister’s instructions until the prime minister holds meetings on the matter.
The PMO also criticized Likud MK Tally Gotliv after she complained that “the Shin Bet and the IDF are working for the terrorists” in the matter.
Earlier Friday, Ben Gvir declared that Palestinian security prisoners would now be permitted family visits only once every two months, reducing the previous allowance of monthly visits.
While the official policy of the prison service designates visits 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.
The new decision was met with opposition from the Shin Bet security service, the IDF and the Israel Prison Service. The institutions cautioned that this might exacerbate the prevailing tense security environment in Israel.
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a terse statement Friday afternoon calling the move “fake news” and saying no action would be taken before the premier holds a special security assessment on the matter next week.
Ben Gvir’s Office quickly retorted: “The decision to enforce Israel Prison Service regulations and follow the law, by which visitations of terrorists’ families will take place once in two months and not once a month, was made in a work meeting between the national security minister and the IPS chief.”
It said the IPS was thus “obligated to carry out the order.”
In addition to further limiting 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 outside in the prison yard, and limiting the availability of lamb meat, Channel 12 reported.
Though Ben Gvir is ostensibly charged with internal security, Netanyahu is widely seen as distrusting his far-right police minister and has often been reported to be keeping him out of key discussions with top security officials.
An unnamed source in the security establishment told Channel 12 news Friday night that Ben Gvir had made the decision on family visits “without consulting security bodies.”
“It has broad security implications and consultations should be held before making such a decision.”
At the same time as the cabinet drama unfolded, MK Gotliv wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “It’s good to know that the Shin Bet and the IDF are working for the terrorists and security prisoners. The entire deep state is against Minister Ben Gvir.
“Good on you Itamar for championing right-wing sovereignty,” she went on. “If limiting the rights of murderous terrorists will harm security in the eyes of the Shin Bet and IDF, then something is very wrong here.”
The premier’s office responded to this as well, censuring the “outrageous” comments by Gotliv, lauding security forces’ efforts for national security and stressing that Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and all security chiefs were “united in their efforts to maintain national security.”
Gotliv has also been a regular source of headaches for the premier, and was recently responsible for an embarrassing coalition vote loss in parliament after she refused to toe the party line.
Gallant too issued a statement calling Gotliv’s statements “grave” and equating them with “stomping on the national flag.” He urged her to “apologize immediately.”
Palestinian security prisoners declared on Friday their intention to start a hunger strike in protest of the new restrictions, as per Hebrew media sources. The prisoners indicated that the strike would commence on September 14.
Ben Gvir had also slammed security officials who opposed his policies, saying that they “are not showing determination in the face of the security prisoners.”
“The prison service doesn’t have the option of not abiding by the law and prison service orders that designate that family visits will be once every two months,” the far-right minister added.
Among his hardline political positions, Ben Gvir has often spoken out against providing Palestinians convicted of terror-related offenses with what he says are overly comfortable conditions. He has also said he will propose legislation to allow for the death penalty for certain terror offenses.
Earlier this year he sought to crack down on shower times and instructed the removal of ovens used to bake pitas. The latter earned him the derisive nickname of “the pita minister” by members of the opposition, who contended he was focusing on public relations rather than substantive policies.
And this week saw a law championed by Ben Gvir enter into effect that bans the early release of prisoners sentenced for light security offenses. Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar has reportedly expressed concern that the new policy will lead to overcrowding in prisons.
Last month Palestinian prisoners threatened a hunger strike over authorities’ policies in prisons, including the transfers of various prisoners and other limitations on their living conditions, but eventually did not make good on it.