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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 January, 2004, 14:30 GMT
Israel press agonises over swap

The agreement between the Israeli Government and the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah to exchange a number of detainees has caused much soul-searching in the Israeli press.

The deal is viewed as a victory for Hezbollah, and is also seen as having posed a moral dilemma for the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"The pain and the price", declares a headline in Maariv. Another headline in the daily notes the agreement was received "With mixed feelings".

"End of the nightmare," is the headline in the top circulation Yediot Aharonot.

"After three years of moving between hope and despair, the torture of the families will come to an end," Maariv believes, referring to the relatives of the three dead Israeli soldiers.

The agreement strengthens one of Israel's most bitter enemies
Yediot Aharonot

"From Hezbollah's perspective," argues Haaretz, "it is indeed a very good deal that will bolster the organisation's political standing in Lebanon".

'Hezbollah triumph'

"Hezbollah will gain new legitimacy after a period in which it had come under criticism at home."

Haaretz commentator Ze'ev Schiff believes the deal gives Hezbollah "a significant victory" and "is seen as a triumph among the Palestinians and the Arab world".

An editorial in Yediot Aharonot fears that the agreement "strengthens one of Israel's most bitter enemies".

"However, from the moral point of view, no Israeli Government would have taken a different decision to that of Sharon's government.

Feelings are mixed. The price is heavy. The achievement is doubtful.
Maariv commentator

"Yes to the deal, with reservations. Not because it is a right deal, but because rejecting it is out of the question."

For Yediot commentator Nahum Barnea, "this story does not have a happy end".

"It puts Israel in a strange position. Since 11 September 2001, America has been waging a war to death against terror. This war dictates norms to other states. No negotiations with terrorist organisations.

"And here is Israel negotiating with a terrorist organisation, compromising with it, and granting it legitimacy and prestige. It is possible to understand how this happened, but it is difficult to clap hands," Mr Barnea says.

V sign

Maariv commentator Ben Kaspit believes the deal "will be sold to the Israeli public as an Israeli achievement".

Hezbollah put a gun to Israel's temple, and won
Commentary in Maariv

"But, the feelings are mixed. The price is heavy. The achievement is doubtful. The Israeli government should avoid such achievements in future. Only one Israeli citizen, Elhanan Tennenbaum, will return home unassisted.

"Against that, 435 Palestinian prisoners will make the V sign. What we have here are terrorists, some of them murderers, who will be given a hero's welcome home. There is no deterrence here, no good news, no great joy."

Maariv commentator Jacky Hugi laments Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah's "scoop".

"Hezbollah put a gun to Israel's temple, and won."

Dr Boaz Ganor recognizes that "one of the most difficult decisions in the war against terror is the decision to free imprisoned terrorists for hostages".

"There are arguments for and against, but in the end the decision maker has to decide between life and life: the lives of the hostages and that of the victims of the released terrorists' future terrorist attacks," the Maariv columnist believes.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




SEE ALSO:
Israel prisoner exchange agreed
24 Jan 04  |  Middle East
Israel prisoner deal 'not enough'
10 Nov 03  |  Middle East
Israelis approve Hezbollah swap
09 Nov 03  |  Middle East
Hezbollah offers Israeli hostage deal
11 Apr 02  |  Middle East
Who are Hezbollah?
04 Apr 02  |  Middle East


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