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Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
November 10

HEADLINE: Hostage swap passes by 1 vote


Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's special envoy, Ilan Biran, is to go to Germany in the next few days to put what Israel hopes will be the finishing touches on the prisoner swap the cabinet narrowly passed on Sunday.

By a vote of 12-11, Sharon was able to pass a resolution laying down the principles of the prisoner swap with Hizbullah.

These include the release of businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the remains of St.-Sgts. Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham, and Omar Sawayid in exchange for some 400 Palestinian prisoners without "blood on their hands" and "several dozen" prisoners from Lebanon and other Arab countries who are also not responsible for murdering Israeli civilians.

The only prisoners who killed Israelis who will be released are "several" Lebanese "involved in incidents in southern Lebanon in which IDF soldiers were killed."

By making this distinction, one government official said, the cabinet made a differentiation between the killing of innocent civilians and the killing of soldiers serving in Lebanon.

The framework resolution leaves no room for the release of Samir Kuntar, one of the PFLP terrorists from Lebanon who landed in Nahariya in 1979, burst into the home of Danny and Smadar Haran, and murdering Danny and his two young children.

Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday there will be no deal if Kuntar is not included.

Sharon, who placed his prestige on the line in forcefully backing the resolution, said at the beginning of the cabinet meeting that failure to pass the resolution would be nothing less than a death sentence for Tannenbaum.

Officials stressed that this is a framework agreement and that Biran is bound by its principles in concluding the deal with Hizbullah.

The final vote crossed party and ideological lines, with Likud and Shinui ministers voting on both sides.

In addition to Sharon, those voting for the resolution were Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Ehud Olmert, Health Minister Dan Naveh, Internal Security Minister Tzahi Hanegbi, and Ministers-without-Portfolio Gideon Ezra and Meir Sheetrit (all Likud), Environment Minister Yehudit Naot, Science Minister Eliezer Sandberg, and National Infrastructure Minister Yosef Paritzky of Shinui.

Those opposed were Education Minister Limor Livnat, Immigrant Absorption Minister Tzipi Livni, Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz, and Ministers-without-Portfolio Uzi Landau and Natan Sharansky (all Likud); Justice Minister Yosef Lapid and Interior Minister Avraham Poraz (Shinui); Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Tourism Minister Benny Elon (National Union); and Construction and Housing Minister Effi Eitam and Social Affairs Minister Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party).

Sharansky said after the meeting that it was the "most non-partisan, least political" cabinet vote in which he has ever taken part. "This meeting was nobler than most cabinet meetings," he said.

"There was no political victory for one side or the other. Everyone felt the other side had valid arguments, and that the issue was not black and white, but very complicated."

This was reflected in the contradictory opinions the cabinet heard from the Mossad, Shin Bet, and IDF concerning the ramifications the deal would have on Hizbullah's position in the Arab world, the likelihood that it would invite more kidnap attempts, and the impact it would have on bringing back missing airman Lt.-Col. Ron Arad.

Mossad head Meir Dagan was the most adamantly opposed, saying it would increase Hizbullah's prestige and increase the likelihood of other kidnap attempts.

Shin Bet head Avi Dichter argued that, while he thinks the price to be paid is reasonable, he was opposed because the deal does not include anything concrete on Arad.

He said that Nasrallah knows how to get the Iranians to provide information on Arad, an assessment disputed by Brig.-Gen Yossi Kupperwasser, head of the intelligence research department, who said Nasrallah has no impact on Iranian decisions.

Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon and Kupperwasser favored the deal, arguing that there would be no additional information on Arad if it was voted down.

Ya'alon said the chances of freeing Arad would actually increase now, since it would put the issue back on the international agenda.

Kupperwasser said that the release of the Lebanese prisoners would reduce the legitimacy Hizbullah feels it has to carry out kidnappings.

After hearing the different estimations, Sharon told the ministers that what was making the issue more complicated is that cabinet was provided with assessments, not facts.

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