Israel And PA Getting Closer

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz has approved a raft of measures to improve relations with the Palestinians following a rare meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Israel.

They met in Gantz’s private residence in a Tel Aviv suburb late Tuesday night for the first time Abbas met an Israeli official inside Israel since 2010. The two discussed security coordination and civil matters between Israel and Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA9, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank.

Gantz’ office said he approved “confidence-building measures” including a $32m advance payment to the PA in taxes collected on its behalf by Israel, the granting of 600 extra permits allowing Palestinian businessmen to cross into Israel, and approving residency status for thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The transfer of tax payments is especially important since Israel collects hundreds of millions of dollars worth of taxes on behalf of the PA as part of the interim peace agreements signed in the 1990s. These taxes are a key source of funding for the cash-strapped Palestinians, but Israel has withheld funds over the PA’s payment of stipends to thousands of families by saying the payments incentivize terrorism.

Israel has also left tens of thousands of Palestinians without legal status. This limits their everyday life and freedom of movement even within the occupied territories.

Relations between Israel and the PA have deteriorated over the years, beginning with ex-prime minister and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. He side-lined the issue during his 2009 to 2021 tenure as prime minister, and oversaw the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, illegal under international law.

His successor, Naftali Bennett, is a hard-line nationalist and even more opposed to Palestinian statehood than him. His government has shown no interest in reviving peace talks but has said it wants to reduce tensions by improving living conditions in the West Bank. Nevertheless, constant violence against Palestinians remains and in recent months there has been more violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank.

The PA has also come under mounting global criticism over a crackdown on key rights and activists. His government is widely viewed as corrupt and authoritarian, a recent poll in June showed that support for Abbas, who took power in 2005, has plummeted.

Many have criticized the PA’s closeness with Israel, seen by many Palestinians as a stab in the back.

Palestinian prisoners face collective punishment

After this meeting on Wednesday, tensions have risen in several Israeli prisons holding Palestinian prisoners, with rights groups saying authorities are keeping inmates, some injured by Israeli forces, in unknown conditions.

“The situation in the prisons is critical and very dangerous,” Milena Ansari, international advocacy officer for Addameer, a Ramallah-based prisoners’ rights group, told Al Jazeera, citing the continuing closure of Hamas prisoners’ sections amid recent collective punishment measures.

Tensions began to escalate on December 14 in the northern Damon prison, where three female prisoners and representatives of the other inmates refused to leave their cell during an evening raid due to the cold weather outside, according to the Addameer prisoners’ rights group. The Israeli officers then cut off electricity in their section, beat them, and transferred one of the prisoners, Shurooq Dwayyat, into isolation, Addameer said.

The other two, Marah Bakir and Muna Qaadan, were placed in solitary confinement after they protested by beating on the cell doors. Other women were beaten by Israeli special forces, one to the point of unconsciousness, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS) monitoring group.

When the news reached Nafha Prison in southern Israel, a Palestinian inmate affiliated with Hamas, Yousef Mabhouh, from the Gaza Strip, stabbed an Israeli prison officer in the face with an improvised weapon, lightly wounding him, according to the Israeli Prison Service (IPS).

The section where the attack took place was then raided by special forces who took 80 prisoners out of their rooms, “handcuffed them for hours in the freezing cold, and beat some of them severely. Mabhouh was subjected to severe assault, after which he was transferred to the hospital by helicopter”, Addameer said.

The PPS has reported big injuries caused to several prisoners in Nafha during the raids and none of the seriously wounded have received medical treatment. All the female detainees in Damon prison have been forbidden family visits and access to the canteen over the past two weeks, with some also facing financial fines.

Simultaneously, Palestinian hunger striker Hisham Abu Hawwash, who is protesting against his “administrative detention”, has been moved to an Israeli hospital and is on the verge of death, unable to speak or move after 141 days on hunger strike with his weight dropping from 89 to 37 kilograms. He has been placed under administrative detention since 2020.

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