Edition 7 Volume 2 - February 19, 2023

The Israel-Hezbollah prisoner exchange

Somewhat a disappointment - an interview with  Qaddorah Faris

It is better than nothing, but the prison exchange did not meet the expectations of the Palestinians.

Germany's mission is humanitarian - an interview with  Josef Joffe

We don't have to make any moral judgments, just bring back prisoners and corpses.

Hezbollah 1, Israel 0 -   Karim Makdisi

Hezbollah is the only organization or government that has forced Israel to withdraw from occupied Arab territory under fire.

A new version of folly -   Yehoshua Porath

Kidnapping pays, and if it's hard to abduct live Israelis, it pays just as well to murder them and abduct the bodies.

Somewhat a disappointment
an interview with Qaddorah Faris

BI: What is your opinion of the recent prisoner exchange between Israel and Hezbollah?

Faris: Naturally, we are very pleased that a number of prisoners were released from Israeli jails. However, for the Palestinians in general, there was a sense of disappointment in the swap after it took place. This is because the hopes and expectations placed on the exchange were much higher than what happened in reality. This disappointment was based on the fact that both the numbers and class of prisoners mentioned to be released four months before the swap, spoke of those serving long sentences. During the negotiations, expectations that a number of unjust Israeli measures and policies implemented in the past few years vis-a-vis prisoners would be broken. We all thought at least those who had been in prison for many years, or female and child detainees, or those suffering from illnesses, would be released. However, none of this happened. In the end, it is better than nothing, but the prison exchange did not meet the expectations of the Palestinians.

But to be honest, it was wonderful to see the Lebanese prisoners released and to finally close their files with the exception of Samir Quntar. It also got my attention, as an Arab, that for the first time, the issue of fighters’ bodies were dealt with seriously. I was very happy to see their bodies returned to their families in a dignified way. I realized that this was a precedent-setting deal and I have a lot of respect for the people of Hezbollah who negotiated it.

BI: Was there any coordination between Hezbollah and the Palestinian Authority regarding the swap in general and the names of the released detainees in particular?

Faris: Coordination in the full meaning of the word did not happen. However, there were channels of communication--I don’t believe they were official--that passed on information I believe was important for carrying out the exchange. Most of this dealt with names, ages, numbers, sentences, towns of origin, etc., of the prisoners and was passed on to Hezbollah in the hope that it would assist them in their ongoing negotiations.

But if we are speaking of direct and constant coordination; no, it didn’t happen. I don’t think that Hezbollah put anyone in the complete picture of what was going on in the negotiations. I am not only referring to the Palestinian Authority, but to all of the Palestinian political forces, including the Islamic organizations.

BI: Certain parties claim that the prisoner exchange was detrimental to the Palestinian Authority in the eyes of the Palestinian people because it was a Lebanese group which succeeded in releasing Palestinian prisoners and not the PA. How would you comment on that?

Faris: These claims are absolutely baseless and inaccurate. The Palestinian Authority succeeded in liberating more than 10,000 prisoners in the past ten years through negotiations with Israel. Just a few months before the Hezbollah deal, the PA was able to get about an equal number of prisoners released from Israeli jails. I suppose that these claims may stem from the false impression that Israel will only give concessions through force and won’t budge at the negotiation table. But as I have said, this belief is inaccurate.

BI: In your capacity as a leading figure in the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club what do you believe should be done vis-a-vis the current detainees?

Faris: Today, there about 7,500 detainees, 1,000 of whom are being held under administrative detention orders, 75 women or girl prisoners, about 400 under the age of 18, and around 300 who suffer from chronic illnesses. On top of that, there are 18 Palestinians who have been detained for more than 20 years. This issue must remain high on the priority list of the Palestinian Authority and the various political factions because it is a national issue. I believe if we keep this on the agenda, and apply constant pressure, their release is not an impossible thing.- Published 19/2/2004 © bitterlemons-international.org

Qaddorah Faris is the Palestinian minister of state and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Germany's mission is humanitarian
an interview with Josef Joffe

BI: Is there an overall German strategy behind involvement in the Israel-Hizbollah prisoner exchange?

Joffe: If you mean a grand strategy, in the sense of clearly defined interests and purposes and a policy to serve both, I don’t think so. The French have a grand strategy in the Middle East: it is to serve economic and commercial interests, and it seeks to countervail American power. The last time the Germans had a grand strategy in the Middle East was during the building of the Baghdad railroad prior to World War I, and of course, when they tried to wrest Egypt from Britain during World War II.

Contemporary German foreign policy consists of the following components. One is Germany’s peculiar obligation to Israel based on German history; no need to go into the details. This strand is particularly strong in the person of Foreign Minister Fischer, with his visible sympathy for Israel. Another component is "let's be friends with each and all" and pursue commercial profits with each and all. The last 50 years have witnessed an eternal balancing act between obligations to Israel and the broader interests in the Arab world, with its oil and its large potential markets. All of German foreign policy in the Middle East can be explained in terms of this tension.

BI: Why did Germany undertake the role of go-between in this case?

Joffe: We have been in this game since the Kohl-Schmittbauer days. It fits German policy interests nicely: no military involvement, we'll be good humanitarians, we'll help to mediate and moderate, we'll act as a go-between.

BI: Germany mediated with Hizbollah, an organization considered by the United States second only to Qaeda as a terrorist threat.

Joffe: It's easy to finesse this problem because the mission is humanitarian, so to speak. Every Israeli politico who comes here pushes the [missing Israel Air Force navigator] Ron Arad issue. This is a perfect fit. We don't have to make any moral judgments, just bring back prisoners and corpses. And we are doing this for Israel. Thus Germany can be a helpful player without having to make choices between the sides.

BI: Would you say that Germany succeeded in moderating Iranian policy regarding missing Israelis in order to carry out the deal? Does this correspond with efforts by Germany and other European states to moderate Iranian WMD policies?

Joffe: Iran has always had a special place in the heart of Germany, going back to the early 20th century. Germany has always sought good relations with Iran no matter what the regime there. After Khomeini, the shibboleth has been “critical dialogue”, not confrontation. If the US complains, pushing for a harder stance, the answer has been: somebody has to keep channels open and exert influence through measured cooperation.

In addressing the US anti-WMD campaign, I would argue that the Europeans decided to cooperate with the US to prevent the US from doing what it had done to Afghanistan and Iraq—to keep away a loose cannon. I assume that the Europeans went to Tehran with the old Mutt and Jeff routine: moderate your nuclear policy to help us moderate American policy. So one factor galvanizing the Europeans was America’s threats to play hardball with Iran. But there is more. I would argue that the Europeans have finally understood that proliferation so close to home is no longer just an American problem; this is a positive change in European policy. Now to your ultimate question: What has this to do with the prisoner deal? My answer, again totally speculative, is this: once the Europeans put Tehran on notice that they could no longer count on Europe ignoring Iranian WMD, the Iranians felt that they had to be more forthcoming, not just on WMD, but also on side issues, like the prisoner issue.

The problem I have with this theory is that Iran may only pretend to be cooperative on WMD while playing for time and neutralizing the new harshness of the Europeans. The prisoner deal could be interpreted as yet another sign of good will that didn’t cost the Iranians very much. It could have been a nice way to placate the Europeans, though I wouldn’t put that much store in this theory. After all, why should the French and the British care whether Hizbollah hands over a few corpses? Their problem is Iranian nukes.

BI: According to media reports, it is possible that in Phase II of the prisoner exchange deal Germany will be asked to release Iranian terrorists from German jails in exchange for information about Ron Arad. Will Germany have counter-demands? How will public opinion relate to a phase in which Germany ceases to be a go-between and becomes an involved party in a new deal?

Joffe: In German public discourse the Iranians have not really been fingered as a terror-sponsoring state. The continentals have a real problem, having been the arena of a lot of Middle Eastern terrorism on their soil in the 1970s and 1980s and beyond. So naturally, they would want to minimize themselves as a new target. But then consider this: Germany has a pretty independent judiciary that has in the past resisted entreaties from the Foreign Office to release Iranian terrorists who were eventually convicted and put into prison. I don’t think that the judiciary will agree to a release of prisoners.

We are now in the midst of an ocean of speculation, or, worse, conspiracy theories that are more copious in the Middle East than oil wells or unemployed young men.
I don't accept the premise that Germany can become a player in Phase II. Remember the basic thrust of German policy in the Middle East: do well for yourself by doing good for others as an honest broker while avoiding stark commitments to either side. At any rate, given the independence of the German judiciary, why would Germany trade information on Ron Arad for convicted terrorists in German jails? Such a small gain, and then for Israel only, in exchange for an international and domestic outcry? It just does not make sense. Nor can I imagine any Israeli government asking Germany to break with sacred legal tradition for the sake of Ron Arad, let alone just for information about his whereabouts.

Nor do I think that it would be very smart for Israel to press the Germans, in terms of Israeli interests. This would be on a par with trading hundreds of convicted Palestinians for three corpses and a businessman with a dubious claim on his country’s protection. This would be like Hollywood’s Academy Awards where they always say: “And the winner is…..Hizbollah and Iran.”- Published 19/2/2004 © bitterlemons-international.org

Josef Joffe is publisher/editor of the German weekly Die Zeit and a senior fellow at Stanford's Institute for International Studies as well as Abramowitz Fellow of the University's Hoover Institution.

Hezbollah 1, Israel 0
 Karim Makdisi

With the successful completion of the Israel-Hezbollah prisoner exchange, the Lebanese Islamic group has taken yet another step in the direction of becoming a full-fledged political party in Lebanon. Founded in the early 1980s as a direct response to the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, Hezbollah has been able to capture the imagination of not only of the disenfranchised Shiite population, but of a large swath of Lebanese citizens in general. By adhering to their principles since its founding, the leaders of Hezbollah have proven to everyone that they mean business and are not about to compromise their values, whether you agree with them or not.

It is important to recognize that in the eyes of most Arabs, Hezbollah is the only organization or government that has forced Israel to withdraw from occupied Arab territory under fire. The prisoner exchange has to be seen in this light. Yet again, they have succeeded in achieving their objectives vis-a-vis Israel. Their strategies have proven to be both prudent internally and appealing externally. One also must look at the level of professionalism displayed by the organization while negotiating the prisoner swap. In the end, only someone who has the big picture in mind could bring such delicate talks to a fruitful conclusion. They did not alter their positions and stances according to the flavor of the day and showed the Israelis that they are a force to be dealt with. The prisoner exchange also strengthened the idea that Hezbollah is an organization that can be counted on to deliver what it promises.

Israel always claims that it will not under any circumstance negotiate with what they term “terrorist organizations.” Taking this in stride, Hezbollah more or less ignored the Israelis and let them come to them. The circumstances regarding how Israeli businessman Tannenbaum was captured have become a mute point for all but the Israelis. The fact is that Hezbollah was able to exchange three bodies and an alleged criminal for over 400 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners and abductees and the vast majority of Lebanese applaud them for this. And rightly so, for these 400 people were returned to their wives, mothers, and parents after being imprisoned for many years in Israel. If this doesn’t raise the sympathy effect for Hezbollah, I don’t know what would.

An interesting aspect of the swap which is not addressed often enough is the win-win situation created by the negotiations. Despite the numerous obstacles (no direct contacts between the parties, Hezbollah being on the US government’s list of terrorist organizations, the long history of mutual animosity), mutually beneficial talks did take place and an agreement was hammered out. Any discussion between enemies has to be counted as a positive development especially in this tortured region. A great deal of credit has to go to Germany for the excellent way in which it handled these very sensitive negotiations. Taking things from a humanitarian perspective, the good offices of the Federal Intelligence Agency (the German equivalent of the CIA) did a great service in showing that keeping the doors open to all parties definitely has its advantages. The US administration’s policy of ostracizing all those who disagree with their positions, does nothing but blind and handcuff America’s diplomats in the region. A self-defeating measure, it makes it much more difficult to advance the values, interests, and policies that US President George Bush is always talking about. I would hope US Secretary of State Powell can use the impressive German mediating role as an example of effective diplomacy in the Middle East. The Berliners took an extra low profile approach to the negotiations, and abstained from gloating about it afterwards. This can only enhance Germany’s reputation as an honest broker in the region, especially when you compare it to the United States’. Also not to be forgotten is the de facto support--both implicit and explicit—that the Lebanese government afforded Hezbollah in its dealing with Israel, demonstrated the political agility of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. This provided Hezbollah with an almost “official” cover and certainly gave them official sanction.

To turn the well-worn argument around that it doesn’t pay to negotiate with “terrorists,” I believe that the prisoner exchange has proven to Israel that it doesn’t pay to abduct Lebanese nationals as bargaining chips. Hopefully, enough of the right conclusions will be drawn by all the parties involved.- Published 19/2/2004 © bitterlemons-international.org

Karim Makdisi teaches at the Department of Political Studies & Public Administration at the American University of Beirut.

A new version of folly
 Yehoshua Porath

In surrendering to Hizbollah's demands regarding the price to be paid for the return of the bodies of three of our soldiers, the government of Israel repeated the serious folly that it perpetrated in the deal with PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril in 1985. A fundamental rule in dealing with extortionists is not to concede to their demands, since there is no limit to the price that you'll be asked to pay.

We broke this rule back in 1985 by freeing nearly 1500 terrorists in return for a handful of prisoners and abductees. The Arabs learned that it's easy to practice extortion on Israel, and drew their conclusions. Those released also understood that Israel has little capacity to withstand terrorism and extortion. They quickly returned to the ranks, and immediately upon their release began organizing the popular assemblies that laid the groundwork for the first intifada in 1987. The Palestinian terrorist organizations reaped all the fruits of this affair, broke the Israeli government's will to resist their pressures, and led it to sign off on unilateral concessions in the form of the Oslo agreements.

Now we have repeated the mistake with a different Arab enemy. Hizbollah cultivates an ideology of absolute hatred for Israel and Jews. Its television broadcasts portray Israel as a bloodthirsty monster whose public figures, political, and religious leaders are busy dismembering the bodies and sucking the blood of enemies near and far. The anti-Semitism displayed by this organization is comparable only to that of the Nazis; pictures like those broadcast by Hizbollah could only be found hitherto in Der Sturmer.

Even before acceding to its demands, the government of Israel granted Hizbollah tremendous prestige merely by agreeing to negotiate with it. In return for three dead bodies we released some 400 live terrorists. Once again the terrorists learned that their deeds can go unpunished: the death penalty is not invoked against them, while their prison sentences remain valid only until the next abduction and the bargaining and release that follow.

Hizbollah's prestige on the Lebanese scene rose dramatically. Its success finalized its status as the primary and practically the sole actor among the large Shi'ite community.
The more moderate Amal has disappeared almost completely. The campaign to turn Lebanon into a Shi'ite Arab state received a tremendous boost.

The Israeli capitulation reverberates throughout the entire Middle East. Everywhere this is seen as an achievement for Iran's aggressive policy against Israel. Iran's proteges score points and gain prestige, while it continues to incite the Muslim world against Israel and to hoodwink everyone concerning its nuclear armament plans.

Nor were these lessons lost on the Palestinians. Kidnapping pays, and if it's hard to abduct live Israelis (soldiers or civilians), it pays just as well to murder them and abduct the bodies. The leaders of Hamas openly declared that they intend to emulate Hizbollah's tactics.

Throughout this affair everyone ignored the fact that the three Israeli soldiers were murdered in an ambush inside Israeli-held territory, that Hizbollah continues to defy the United Nations decision regarding the location of the border with Israel, and that it was lunacy for Israel to leave Lebanon without reaching an arrangement for the Lebanese government and army to fill the void in southern Lebanon created by the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces. Hizbollah's dramatic achievement will only enhance its grip on the border area and heighten the danger posed to Israel in view of the extent and nature of the armaments that Hizbollah has concentrated in this sensitive region.

All this we accomplished because, in the words of Minister Meir Shitreet, "we're not like other countries". He's right; we aren't. We behave like fools and cowards without compare. Get ready for the next abduction!- Published 19/2/2004 © bitterlemons-international.org

Yehoshua Porath is professor emeritus in the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

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