Under pressure from the US and Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is said to be considering dissolving the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs. A Palestinian news source, which has been blocked by the PA, reported that President Mahmoud Abbas was considering dissolving the committee and merging it with another office.
Ma’an News Agency cited the Gaza based Al-Resalah news site, before its website was taken down, as reporting “trustworthy” Palestinian sources saying that the Palestinian president was officially considering dissolving the committee and “merging it with one of the main branches or offices of the occupied West Bank-based Interior Ministry.”
It also confirmed that as of mid-morning today, hours after the report was published, the website of Al-Resalah could not be accessed at Ma’an‘s offices in Bethlehem in the West Bank, though the site could be accessed through a VPN.
The PA had come under intense pressure over the allowance it pays to the families of Palestinian’s killed or imprisoned by Israel. In April, an Israeli bill was introduced in the Knesset to deduct tax revenues transferred from Israel to the PA over what Israel calls the “martyrs” compensation programme.
The report cited by Ma’an said: “President Abbas did not oppose the plans of [Prime Minister Rami] Hamdallah’s government to dissolve the Prisoners’ Affairs Committee,” quoting anonymous sources that said they “expect the decision was made in agreement with the US administration as a goodwill gestures by the PA to American political interests in the region.”
The sources also speculated that the decision to dissolve the committee was part of ongoing PA efforts to revive the decades old Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“The Palestinian government will officially announce that the decision to dissolve the Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs resulted from the financial crisis, but the reality is very different, given the pressures on the PA to agree to start a new round of [peace] negotiations without preconditions,” the Palestinian sources told Al-Resalah.
The report came days after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the PA had informed him that it had agreed to stop the “martyrs” compensation programme, though he later backtracked on the statements after they were refuted by both Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Head of the Prisoners’ Affairs Committee, Issa Qaraqe, said Tillerson’s remarks were false and represented “an aggression against the Palestinian people”. Qaraqe told Israeli news site Haaretz that no such decision could ever possibly be made, since it would spell the end of the PA with the Palestinian public.
“Almost every other household among the Palestinian people is the family of a prisoner or martyr,” Qaraqe said. “Anybody who thinks he can execute a decision like that is badly wrong.”