It is unclear what concrete gains the Olmert government expects to secure by returning a live jihadist convicted of murder as part of an exchange for two Israeli soldiers who are now presumed dead. It may seek some sense of political closure on the 2006 war in order to move forward in its dealings with Syria and Lebanon, regardless of how fruitful those may or may not be. Or, perhaps they may hold onto the hope, official positions notwithstanding, that Goldwasser and Regev are still alive. But the willingness to swap Samir Kuntar for their remains will be interpreted by Israel's enemies as a sign of weakness; indeed, obtaining Kuntar's freedom constitutes a net gain for Hizballah's kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers and the ensuing war. It is a clear signal to jihadist groups that kidnappings are effective, and, worse yet, it may encourage Hamas to increase its demands in exchange for the release of Gilad Schalit.
"Palestinians disappointed PA prisoners won't be included in swap for Regev, Goldwasser," by Khaled Abu Toameh for the Jerusalem Post, June 30:
Palestinians on Sunday reacted with mixed feelings to the news about the Israel-Hizbullah prisoner exchange agreement.
While many Palestinians expressed joy over the decision to release Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar, they also voiced disappointment because the deal did not include Palestinian inmates.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum hailed the agreement as a "victory" for Hizbullah. "This is an achievement for the will and steadfastness of the Lebanese resistance," he said. "This also proves that rights can only be restored by force." However, Fatah and Hamas representatives criticized Hizbullah for failing to demand the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. They said Hizbullah could have easily secured the release of several hundred Palestinians in return for IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
"This is a very bad deal as far as the Palestinians are concerned," said a top Fatah operative in Ramallah. "Hassan Nasrallah has betrayed the Palestinians by signing a separate deal with Israel." A senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip also expressed disappointment with Nasrallah, saying the majority of the Palestinians couldn't understand why he "turned his back on us." He said that following the kidnapping of the two soldiers, many Palestinian factions and families sent Hizbullah lists with the names of Palestinian prisoners whom they wished to be included in a future prisoner swap with Israel.
"Nasrallah has shown that he does not really care about the Palestinians," the Hamas official said. "There is no doubt he could have got much more from Israel in return for the two soldiers. But we don't understand why he chose to act in this way." The Palestinians have long referred to Kuntar as a "hero." According to Palestinian Media Watch, the Palestinian Authority regarded Kuntar as an "ideal" prisoner.
"On the one hand, Kuntar embodies what the PA considers the 'heroism' of terrorists fighting Israel," the group said. "On the other hand, he's the ultimate symbol of all terrorist prisoners who have murdered Israelis and will eventually be freed as a result of future kidnappings or through some other means." PA Television, controlled by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, recently broadcast a picture honoring Kuntar, who is depicted beside a map of Israel completely covered by the Palestinian flag.
In Beirut, Hizbullah said the Israeli approval of the deal was a reflection of the Islamist group's strength.