Palestinian political prisoners must be released, categories of “security detainees” must be cancelled and “political status” must be granted if peace between Israel and the Palestinians is to be achieved.
“Reaching the ‘No-Peace’ Agreement: The Role of Palestinian Prisoner Releases in Permanent Status Negotiations,” a briefing paper from Addameer, examines Israel’s failure to comply with the bilateral agreements regarding the release of Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli detention for their involvement in activities related to the ongoing belligerent Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. It concludes that prisoner releases can be instrumental in achieving a lasting peace, but only if prisoners themselves are recognized as political partners in the process.
More than 16 years after the beginning of the “Oslo Peace Process,” Israel still holds 330 Palestinian political prisoners who were arrested before 13 September 1993, the cutoff date for arrests that determined which prisoners would be eligible for inclusion in subsequent releases. Approximately 95 of these political prisoners have spent more than 20 consecutive years in Israeli prisons.
Today, Israel holds a total of more than 7,120 Palestinian detainees. What’s more, large numbers of Palestinians are still arrested by Israel on a weekly basis. The Israeli military judicial system imposed on the occupied territory, criminalizes every aspect of Palestinian life and continues to de-politicize Palestinian national aspirations. In policy and in practice, Palestinian activities against the military occupation are never deemed “political” by Israel — and acts that would or could constitute “political offenses” have never been defined.
In a negotiated peace settlement, amnesties are often a necessary condition for putting an end to a conflict. Prisoners often play a central role in post-conflict politics and can be instrumental in addressing past grievances and in seeking justice and reconciliation. Israeli authorities however, have remained unwilling to explore a shift in discourse regarding the identification of “political offenses” or to even acknowledge Palestinian political motivations. To the contrary, those whom in any other post-conflict situation would become partners in peace are still considered “security,” rather than “political” detainees. Moreover, Israeli legislation and court decisions have long enabled the State to hold detainees as “bargaining chips,” held for their potential value in hostage or political negotiations, disregarding their status as political actors and denying them fundamental human rights protections.
Addameer contends that Israel has systematically failed to act in accordance with many of its obligations under the Oslo Accords and related Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements, particularly in regards to prisoner releases. Instead, Israel treats the issue as a public relations opportunity and a means to achieve political gains. Working within such constraints, the Palestinian leadership has been forced to negotiate with the Israeli government over the numbers of prisoners included in releases, and has failed to develop a strategy to challenge the military courts system in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) that defines all Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation as “security offenses.” Action is therefore needed at both domestic and international levels to ensure Israeli respect for its obligations towards Palestinian political prisoners under the agreements it has signed. Such pressure must also focus on compliance with requirements under international law with regards to the ongoing arrest, interrogation, trial and detention of thousands of Palestinian political actors in the OPT.
Should permanent status negotiations resume, Addameer calls on the international community, and all actors involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, to put all the necessary pressure on the government of Israel to:
- Release all Palestinian and Arab political prisoners arrested before 13 September 1993, in accordance with previous agreements;
- Release all Palestinian prisoners arrested by Israel in relation to their activities opposing the occupation without any pre-conditions, thus canceling previously defined categories of prisoners in Oslo II and effectively creating one category of “political prisoners”;
- Create a joint committee to define “political offenses” and set a timeline for future prisoner releases; and,
- Draft all necessary provisions to prevent future arbitrary arrests of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory and their unlawful transfer to prisons inside Israel.
Most importantly, Addameer calls on the Palestine Liberation Organization to ensure that resolving the issue of Palestinian prisoners is set as a condition precedent for the re-launch of permanent status negotiations and remains a top priority throughout any renewed peace process.