This is a translation of an interview by the Al-Quds Newspaper with Palestinian Minister of Detainees, Issa Qaraqe’, regarding the issue of Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel, and the future of “political talks” between Israel and the Palestinians.
Q: What do you think will happen regarding the release of the fourth phase of veteran political prisoners?
A: Israel obstructed this implementation, and violated its commitments; the Israeli government is trying to blackmail the Palestinian leadership, and conditioned the release with extending direct talks.
President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the Israeli stances, and Tel Aviv is pressuring the Palestinian leadership, it obstructed the release, conditioned it with extending direct talks.
Abbas rejected the Israeli preconditions, simply because the release of all veteran detainees is part of an agreement that has a different track than the peace process.
Q: Are there any negotiations regarding the release?
A: The door is still open, several meetings were held between Israeli and Palestinian officials, but Israel foiled all attempts for a solution, it escalated, and started talking about forcing the released detainees into exile, or sending West Bank, Jerusalem and historic Palestine detainees to Gaza, or elsewhere, instead of allowing them back home.
Israel also violated its commitments regarding abiding by all principles that led to the resumption of talks; it was supposed to stop all of its settlement construction and expansion activities, to accept the June 4 1967 boundaries as the borders of the future Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Palestinian negotiators rejected the Israeli stances, especially since they are a clear indication of Israel’s intents; such moves will not lead to a just and comprehensive peace with the Palestinians.
Q: “What is the future of negotiations, how do they impact the detainees?
A: I think everything is related to the release of the detainees, Israel is supposed to release the 30 detainees, and send them back home without any exception. This includes the 14 detainees who are from historic Palestine.
There can be no talks about extending direct negotiations without this release. I believe the Palestinian leadership has clear visions regarding extending talks; those visions are based on the following basic rights;
Israel must stop all settlement activities, all violations against the Palestinians, the Palestinian state should be established in all of the Palestinian territories captured by Israel in 1967, East Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian State, and Israel must release more than 1200 detainees, including Marwan Barghouthi and Ahmad Sa’adat.
Q: “What do the detainees think of what is happening now?”
The detainees affirmed their support to president Abbas, and the Palestinian leadership, they refuse to be used as a bargaining chip in the hands of Israel.
They said “we struggle for our dignity, our country, and will not be used as a means to pressure or blackmail the Palestinian Authority.”
Q: “Why did the Palestinian leadership choose to join 16 international institutions?”
A: The decision was made when Israel violated the agreement, and refused to release the detainees, when Israel started abusing the situation, when it wanted “to be paid three times” for releasing the detainees.
We agreed, and suspended our applications to join the UN and international conventions during the nine months of talks; their second violation was when they issued more tenders for the construction and expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestine, and the third when they wanted to extend talks without recognizing the legitimate rights of our people.
Q: “Is the release of the Israeli spy in the US, Jonathan Pollard, part of this price?”
A: Israel is practicing blackmail in a very rude manner; it even wants to blackmail the United States to get the spy released. We will not accept to have the Palestinian detainees used as part of this immoral blackmail and abuse; a blackmail Israel is pulling even on its best ally, the United States.
Q: “Will the release of Marwan Barghouthi be in exchange for releasing Pollard?”
A: We have nothing to do with Pollard, one of our main demands is the release of Barghouthi, if Israel wants a just and comprehensive peace with us, our leaders must be freed.
We cannot be talking peace while our leaders are behind bars; Abu Mezen (President Abbas) clearly demanded the release of Barghouthi and Ahmad Sa’adat.
Q: “What is the significance of joining international conventions?”
This is a significant achievement; a huge move in the history of this conflict, International Law, UN resolutions, and all related conventions are the core of peace in the region.
They are essential for establishing a strong, independent Palestinian state, a state recognized by the UN and dozens of countries around the world.
We must use international law to demand protection for the Palestinian people, and hold the occupation accountable for its violations.
Q: “How does this affect the cause of the detainees?”
It is very important, its provides international legitimacy to the Palestinian struggle against the occupation, a struggle that is based on the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, International Law, all UN resolutions, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
All countries that signed and joined the Geneva Convention have the responsibility of ensuring those resolutions are implemented. Israel is legally bound to abide by that, it can be brought to international courts. All Israeli laws, including military laws, against the detainees will be legally voided.
“What is the significance of joining all four Geneva conventions?”
The Third Geneva Convention will protect all 5000 detainees, they will become under international protection and monitoring; all rulings against them will be invalid, their living conditions would improve.
Punishing and abusing the detainees, violations that Israel continues to conduct, will be outlawed, violations against the detainees, especially ailing detainees, will be considered war crimes, and the perpetrators can be prosecuted for their crimes in international courts.
The Fourth Convention applies to most detainees, arresting them outside the occupied territories is illegal, forcing them into exile is illegal, arbitrary Administrative Detention without charges or trial is illegal, kidnapping and torturing children, using the detainees as human shields, refusing to release the remains of all slain Palestinians – those all are violations of this convention.
Q: “Israel is threatening to punish the detainees in different ways, what will you do about that?”
We are now a state under occupation, we are members of many treaties and conventions, we can prosecute Israel at the International Criminal Court, and many other venues.
We still have important steps to take, the International Court at The Hague can grant us a way to defend our detainees, to ensure International Law is applied, we can ask the international fact-finding committee to investigate serious violations against the Palestinian people, and the detainees.
Q: “Netanyahu is threatening to withhold Palestinian tax money because the P.A is supporting the detainees, what is your opinion about that?”
A: This is theft, this is our money and we have the right to use it any way we wish, we could prosecute Israel especially since the Geneva Conventions criminalize illegal seizure of property.
Israel treats our detainees as criminals, as terrorists, but this is illegal, international agreements grant them the status of legitimate combatants, the detainees scarified for freedom, dignity and justice, and it is our duty to stand by them, support them, and be proud of them.
Q: “How do you see the Prisoners Day this year (April17)?”
A: This is a special year, the United Nations declared it a year of solidarity with the Palestinian people, the release of all detainees, and their protection by International Law, are very important, and guaranteed by International Law.
We will be launching numerous activities, locally, regionally and internationally, all in support of the detainees.
This will be happening while Israel faces more international isolation, and continues to slide towards racism.