Israel's swap of prisoners was bad deal

by Richard Chesnoff
Monday, February 2, 2004

In what may be the dumbest deal in a long time, Israel just sprang more than 400 imprisoned Palestinian and Lebanese terrorists, who returned to heroes' welcomes in Beirut, the West Bank and Gaza. In exchange, Israel got the remains of three murdered soldiers and the live body of a kidnapped Israeli businessman with a dubious past.

How did the Palestinians respond to this rare gesture of Mideast humanity?

On the same day, a Palestinian Authority policeman boarded a Jerusalem bus and blew himself up, murdering 10 Israelis and wounding dozens more.

So why did the normally hard-nosed Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, agree to such a bum deal? It looks like a misguided attempt to boost his popularity, which is sagging in the face of continued Arab terrorism and new charges of corruption against Sharon, his sons and some of the people around them.

If so, it has backfired. Large sectors of the Israeli public are loudly critical of the unbalanced exchange. There is no doubt that for the bereaved parents of the three Israeli soldiers the return of the bodies for burial represents some solace. But that is not enough justification.

As for the Israeli businessman, he is a colonel in the Israeli reserves named Echanan Tannenbaum who was kidnapped by Hezbollah during an illegal business trip to Lebanon. Tannenbaum says he was there seeking information about a still-missing Israeli airman, Rod Arad. Israeli authorities dismiss his story - but who knows? Maybe there are secrets about the exchange we don't know.

What is certain is that Hezbollah's success in this deal could make kidnap targets out of Israelis everywhere. Worse yet is the sense that no matter what gestures Israel makes, the Arab response is more terror.

Thursday's suicide bombing was especially vicious. The bomb was packed with nuts and bolts to maximize casualties. Body parts were blown into apartments up to 50 feet away.

Israeli spokesman Jonathan Peled made the point succinctly, even as he tried to justify the swap: "We are releasing another 400 Palestinians with a very heavy heart, because we know that these 400 will return very quickly to the cycle of violence."

You said it, pal.