As announced by Hizbullah chief Sheikh Nasrallah more than once in the recent past, Israel and Hizbullah appear to be close to an agreement. Israel, according to the terms under discussion, is to free an unknown number of terrorists, both dead and alive, and the Hizbullah terrorists are to release Elchanan Tenenbaum, whom they kidnapped three years ago, as well as the bodies of three IDF soldiers they killed around the same time.
Public Security Minister Tzachi HaNegbi said this morning that Marwan Barghouti, responsible as Secretary-General of Fatah-Tanzim for the murder of at least 14 Israelis in many murderous terrorist attacks, will not be included in the deal. Foremost among his attacks was the murder of six people when a terrorist entered a Bar Mitzvah celebration in Hadera in January 2002 and began shooting wildly.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said at the time of Barghouti's arrest that he would be brought to military trial. Barghouti is responsible for turning the Fatah movement into a terrorist organization and founded the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, which was outlawed by the U.S. in early 2002. Among his financial sources was Yasser Arafat, who personally authorized many funds later used by Barghouti for terror attacks. "He will sit in jail for dozens of years for his murderous crimes," HaNegbi said, adding that no murderers are included in the Tenenbaum deal. It was reported that Barghouti was secretly transported to a different prison yesterday, in light of his recent contacts with terrorist elements.
Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz also said today that Barghouti will not be released, and that "Nasrallah has been saying all sorts of numbers and names of terrorists that Israel will release - but this does not mean that this is in fact what will happen... Israel has had bitter experience in negotiations with Nasrallah in the past."
What of Ron Arad, the Israel Air Force navigator who has not been seen since his plane crash-landed over Lebanon 17 years ago? Nasrallah has long claimed that Arad was held by the Iranians and that he has no further information on him. However, he said yesterday for the first time that Hizbullah will "make its best efforts to try to get information on what happened to Arad." Israeli negotiators are not overly trusting of Nasrallah's promises, and are not sharing with the public their reasoning in not insisting that the information on Arad be supplied simultaneously with the upcoming exchange. The Arad family says that one of the terrorists to be released - Sheikh Dirani - sold Ron to the Iranians, and still has connections with the Iranians.
Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger is currently attending an interfaith conference against terrorism in Kazakhstan, and he plans to use the occasion to obtain information on Arad from the Iranian representatives. "I hope that we will be able to get this giant machine called 'redemption of captives' going," Rabbi Metzger said before he left. "This religious summit is a level of negotiations that has not been tried, and I hope it will succeed."
Yonah Baumel, whose son Zechariah and two other soldiers have not been heard from since they were captured in the Peace for Galilee War of 1982, says that Israel will reportedly release Syrian prisoners in the exchange. "Syria has always been assumed to be in possession of information on our sons," he told Arutz-7's Yosef Zalmanson, "so how is it that that information is not included in the deal?"
Sami Azzam, whose brother Azzam of the Druze village of Merer has been imprisoned in Egypt for almost seven years on charges of spying for Israel, protested today, "If Israel can conduct negotiations with a terrorist organization, does it make any sense that it can't negotiate with Egypt - a country with which it has diplomatic relations - for the release of a man convicted of spying for Israel?"
Yehudit Dasberg, who is raising her two grandchildren following the terrorist murder of her daughter and son-in-law Efrat and Yaron Ungar in June 1996, is against the Tenenbaum deal. Although government sources have said that terrorists with "blood on their hands" will not be released, she wrote in Maariv today that "the hundreds of prisoners released in the 1985 Jibril deal [three Israeli soldiers held for almost three years were exchanged for 1,150 Arab prisoners] brought about the first intifada, which in turn led to the second one [and many Israeli deaths]. The government then did not know what would happen and had good intentions, but we must not repeat the same mistakes again."
Yitzchak Frankental, on the other hand, whose son was killed by Arabs and who leads an extreme left-wing organization, writes that the value of redeeming captives is a supreme one, and that "we must not take into account the strengthening of the [other] side, but rather prevent future incidents in which our people are taken captive."