A day after Palestinian security prisoners ended their 40-day hunger strike, Palestinian officials on Sunday claimed that Israel conceded to 80 percent of the prisoners’ demands, resulting in “a fundamental transformation in the terms of the prisoners’ living conditions.”
The claim stands in stark contrast to Israel’s assertions that it neither negotiated with the Palestinians nor conceded to a single demand.
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians announced the end of the strike early Saturday morning, agreeing only to the facts that the strike was over and that the prisoners would have an extra family visit per month reinstated — a demand that had nothing to do with Israel, as such visits are organized by the Red Cross.
After that, the narrative diverges sharply. Israel said that it spoke only with the Red Cross and at no stage negotiated with convicted terrorist and strike leader Marwan Barghouti. The Palestinians said Israel negotiated directly with the Barghouti in marathon 20-hour talks that ended at 4 a.m. Saturday.
On Sunday, Issa Qaraqe, head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs, said in a statement that Israel has also agreed in principle to a whole raft of the prisoners’ demands, a claim the Israel Prisons Service continued to deny.
Qaraqe said Palestinian prisoners would be allowed to make more phone calls to family; receive more frequent visits from family in Gaza, allowing family members to bring clothing and candy to prisoners and enabling more distant family members to visit, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported.
Israel will also lift a security ban on hundreds of family members, including 140 children, which had barred them from visiting prisoners, the report claimed.
According to Qaraqe, Israel agreed to place all female prisoners in Hasharon prison, and give them better conditions. Imprisoned minors will have access to education. Overcrowding and improving general prison conditions will be negotiated. And prisoners will be placed in prisons closer to their families, the report said.
A spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service denied it had made any concessions at all to the hunger striking prisoners.
“Contrary to the reports delivered by Issa Qaraqe, no benefits were given to national security prisoners in return for quitting the hunger strike and there were no negotiations on this matter,” an IPS spokesperson told Ma’an.
The spokesperson said that the strike resolution “was made possible due to the Palestinian Authority agreeing to fund the second visit, instead of the Red Cross, who, up to a few months ago, was the funding organization.”
Prison officials told Channel 2 on Saturday that hunger strike leader Barghouti negotiated the additional monthly visit in a phone conversation with PA Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh. They said officials at Ashkelon’s Shikma Prison allowed Barghouti to speak with al-Sheikh and meet with other leading prisoners in an effort to end the hunger strike before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
According to the Israeli officials, Barghouti and the other prisoners agreed to call off the strike after the PA promised to pay for the additional visits, at an estimated cost of $6 million per year.
Israel Radio said on Saturday that a message had been conveyed to the prisoners that Israel would be prepared to discuss other living condition issues with them at a later stage, but not under the threat of a hunger strike.
The hunger strike was initiated by Barghouti, a prominent Fatah terrorist and political figure on April 17. Barghouti is serving five life sentences for murders committed during the second Palestinian intifada.
Israel had all along refused to negotiate with the prisoners, noting that many were convicted terrorists and their conditions were in line with accepted norms.
But the strike had provoked wide-spread solidarity protests among the Palestinians and in recent days there have been dozens of clashes with the IDF in the West Bank and Gaza.
On Friday some of the prisoners, who have been only drinking a mixture of water and salt, had threatened to join in the Ramadan fast too, abstaining from drinking during daylight hours. This would have rapidly exacerbated their condition.
According to the Palestinian Authority, over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners reached their 40th day of the strike. Israel said the number was closer to 800.
Israel largely viewed the strike as having less to do with actual conditions and more to do with internal Palestinian politics, saying it was a strategic political move by Barghouti, who wanted to demonstrate his influence on the Palestinian street ahead of a bid to succeed PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Nevertheless, Israel worked hard to undermine Barghouti during the strike, including planting a candy bar in his cell and releasing a film of him eating it.
Israel also released a handwritten note from Barghouti listing his demands in an effort to show how soft the demands were.
Among the demands Barghouti made were 20 channels of television, unrestricted books and magazines, air conditioning, a greater selection of items available for purchase in the canteen, family visits, the restarting of open university studies, public telephone use, and annual medical checks for prisoners.