Jubilation over planned Israeli-Palestinian prisoner swap dampens
REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Initial jubilation over the impending prisoner swap between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas began to dampen Wednesday as people on both sides expressed concerns that their leaders may have given away too much at the negotiating table.
Although most Palestinians celebrated the expected release of 1,027 prisoners from Israeli jails, some voiced disappointment that the list did not include high-profile leaders such as Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Saadat, who were convicted in Israeli courts of orchestrating terrorist attacks and are serving life sentences. In previous rounds of negotiations, Hamas had insisted that the men be released.
In addition, more than 200 prisoners will be deported after their release, either to the Gaza Strip or another country, and Israel has reserved the right to rearrest or assassinate them if they are linked to more crimes.
"Hamas could have bargained for a better deal," said Issa Qaraqi, minister of prisoners for the Palestinian Authority and a member of Fatah, a rival Palestinian faction. "The deal has some shortfalls."
Hamas officials dismiss such complaints as sour grapes, but excitement on the streets of the West Bank was noticeably cooler Wednesday as details about the deal emerged.
"The initial glow has died down," said Muhannad Abdul Hamid, a political analyst and newspaper columnist. "People thought Hamas broke through all of Israel's red lines, but now there is some disappointment."
In return for the release of the Palestinian prisoners, Hamas has agreed to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by militants in Gaza Strip since 2006. The deal is expected to conclude next week.
After celebrations Tuesday night over the expected release of Shalit, some Israeli leaders and pundits began voicing concerns Wednesday about the deal, noting that it could set a dangerous precedent. Israel has never before exchanged so many Palestinian prisoners for a single soldier.
"The deal is a prize for terrorism," wrote columnist Ben-Dror Yemini in the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv on Tuesday. "It isn't a deal. It is capitulation."
-- Edmund Sanders
Maher Abukhater in Ramallah contributed reporting
Photo: Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron demonstrate Wednesday in support of prisoners held in Israeli jails. Credit: Abed Al Hashlamoun / EPA