The Palestinian Hunger Strike Has Nothing to Do with Conditions in Israeli Prisons

April 25 2017

For over a week, Marwan Barghouti—a former leader of the Fatah faction’s military wing and a key figure behind the second intifada—has been engaged in a hunger strike along with hundreds of his fellow Palestinian prisoners. Ostensibly, the strikers are seeking better treatment from the Israeli prison holding them. Bassam Tawil argues that something else is at stake:

Barghouti has been in prison for fifteen years so far. Remarkably, despite his long-term imprisonment, this is his first hunger strike, despite the poor incarceration conditions that have supposedly driven him to this move. . . . [But] the hunger strike is, in fact, completely unrelated to conditions in Israeli prisons. Rather, Barghouti’s hunger strike is directly linked to a power struggle that has long been raging inside his Fatah faction. . . .

Last November, Barghouti emerged as the biggest winner in Fatah’s internal election. His status as a prisoner and his involvement in terrorism continue to be the main reason why he is so popular among Palestinians. Barghouti’s victory in the election means that he is now number two after Mahmoud Abbas, and many expected the PA president to appoint him as his deputy. This past February, however, the Fatah Central Council, a body dominated by Abbas loyalists, delivered a deliberate slap in the face to Barghouti, ignoring his landslide victory and appointing someone else as deputy chairman. . . .

Barghouti . . . presents Abbas with a [particularly serious] problem. The Palestinian on the street will not tolerate the defamation, at least not in public, of any Palestinian sitting in Israeli prison. Abbas sees Barghouti as a real threat, particularly in the wake of public opinion polls suggesting that Barghouti could easily win any presidential election. Barghouti at large would be a nightmare for Abbas.

[But] Barghouti . . . knows better than to air Fatah’s dirty laundry. What, then, is to be done? The traditional diversionary tactic: direct the heat toward Israel. . . . Barghouti knows opposing Abbas publicly would be an unpopular move. Similarly, Abbas is using the hunger strike to incite against Israel and demand that all Palestinian terrorists, including ones with blood on their hands, be released unconditionally. The hunger strike is a smokescreen for the real problems inside Fatah and has nothing to do with the conditions of prisoners in Israeli jails.

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More about: Fatah, Israel & Zionism, Mahmoud Abbas, Marwan Barghouti, Palestinians

 

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war