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Copyright 2004 Jerusalem Post
January 25

HEADLINE: Wag the sheikh: MKs suspect deal's timing


Knesset members from across the political spectrum expressed concern Sunday that the timing of the prisoner exchange ended up being conveniently less than a week after businessman David Appel was indicted for allegedly bribing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The MKs said they hope the timing of the deal was coincidental, but if the exchange was purposely announced this weekend, it is scandalous.

"I think the timing is very scary," Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev said. "It's hard to believe that the deal is being done to obscure the public scandal around Sharon, but the timing is shocking. The entire deal is strange, because prior to it, nothing had changed in weeks. I find it hard to suspect that the prime minister is doing the deal to distract the public, but the timing is shocking nonetheless."

Meretz MK Roman Bronfman said Sharon's efforts to distract the public from the legal proceedings against him began last Thursday, when his aides announced that he would be traveling to Washington in three weeks for a meeting with US President George W. Bush.

"When the prime minister is under so much external pressure, he has no choice but to resign, because anything he does now is connected to the investigations against him," Bronfman said. "Perhaps the deal was expedited prematurely, perhaps concessions were made that wouldn't have been made under normal circumstances in order to change the priorities of the press."

National Union MK Aryeh Eldad said he believes it would be shallow to say that Sharon initiated the exchange because of the investigations, but the timing of the announcement that a deal was completed was convenient for the prime minister.

"Sharon probably is enjoying the positive coverage, but I don't think he did it in order to distract the public," Eldad said. "It could be that the publicity is convenient for Sharon, but I don't think the entire deal is intended to remove pressure from him."

Eldad said the timing of the deal was also too good to be true for Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. "We have made Nasrallah the savior of the Palestinians in the territories at a time when he had reached his nadir," Eldad said.

Labor MK Yuli Tamir said she is in favor of the prisoner exchange, but it won't end up helping out Sharon. "Nothing will erase Sharon's problems," Tamir said. "The corruption scandal and David Appel won't disappear."

Yahad leadership candidate Yossi Beilin was disgusted by the question. "Any attempt to find a connection between Sharon's problems and the prisoner exchange would wrong the families of the missing soldiers and the entire people of Israel," Beilin said.

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