On 30 January 2004, after months of negotiations between Hizbullah and the state of Israel via German mediators, a major exchange of bodies and prisoners was completed. In return for a kidnapped Israeli citizen—alleged to belong to Israeli intelligence services—and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers captured three years previously, Israel released twenty-nine Lebanese and other Arab prisoners, the remains of fifty-nine Lebanese citizens, and, astonishingly, 400 Palestinian prisoners. The prisoner release was something of a coup for Hizbullah and its success led Hizbullah on 12 July 2006 to emulate the same capture operation hoping to precipitate the release of the last remaining Lebanese prisoners in Israeli prisons. In 2004, many from across the political spectrum in Lebanon and Palestine praised Hizbullah's achievement. In Beirut, the welcoming ceremonies for the released Palestinian prisoners were awash in both Palestinian and Lebanese flags. Among the celebrants were tens of thousands of Palestinians. The superior effectiveness of Hizbullah in comparison with then Palestinian leadership was not lost on observers. After all, in its most successful negotiations with the Israeli state the previous August, then Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen had been able to secure the release of only 338 Palestinian prisoners of Israel, most of whom had reached the end of their terms anyway. In his welcoming speech to his Palestinian and Lebanese audience, Hizbullah Secretary General, Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah, further took a swipe at the Fatah-dominated Palestinian National Authority (PNA) by insisting that “We should not fall under any illusions and let ourselves believe that peaceful negotiations are an alternative to military resistance. Effective [military] resistance was the main factor behind our success” (Daily Star, 30 Jan. 2004, my emphases). One Lebanese analyst claimed that the Hizbullah success could not possibly be “a popular deal with Palestinian leadership” (Daily Star, 26 Jan. 2004), because it showed the relative effectiveness of Hizbullah compared to the Fatah-dominated PNA.
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