Perspectives on the Israel-Hezbollah Prisoner Exchange


In this insightful video op-ed Daniel Levy, the director of New America’s Middle East Initiative, provides a glimpse into the reasons why today’s prisoner exchange was important for both Israel and Lebanon.

As Daniel argues, this exchange can be hard to understand in the West. Why would Israel give up a hated terrorist, a cold-blooded murderer, in return for the dead bodies of kidnapped soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, among other Israeli war dead from the 2006 Lebanon war? And what does Israel gain from negotiating with terrorist groups like Hezbollah?

First of all, Hezbollah’s gains from this exchange should not be exaggerated. Hezbollah has built its reputation in Lebanon over the last 26 years, not only as a resistance organization but also as a charity organization that provides education, medical care and other basic services the Lebanese government cannot. The prisoner exchange may mark a small symbolic victory for them, but nothing of any more importance. It certainly will do little to increase the legitimacy that they have already gained with the Lebanese people.
Yet Levy is right in saying that Hezbollah is still a presence that must be dealt with. They are a part of Lebanon’s government, and the level of power they have acquired over the years make them a key player in Lebanese politics, and their influence cannot be underestimate or ignored.
As for the released terrorist, Samir Quntar, he remains a murderer. But his moment in history has passed.
Quntar was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group that, while still active, was supplanted long ago by the PLO (now the Palestinian Authority) and Hamas. He is not a member of Hezbollah, and poses little threat to Israel now that he is freed. His power was as a symbol, a martyr condemned in perpetuity to Israel’s prison system. Freed from his bonds, he loses his power to captivate. The hero’s welcome he received today is, as Daniel points out, a chance for the Lebanese to vent their very real anger and frustration at the destruction wrought by the war and the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon that ended in 2000. But Samir Quntar the man will most likely fade away.
This leaves, of course, Israel. Israel’s gains, if they can be called that, are bittersweet and ephemeral. The Goldwasser and Regev families will never see their sons again. But as Levy points out, this exchange shows, if nothing else, the solidarity of the Israeli people, and their commitment, above everything else, to bring all of Israel’s sons home. It also gives them the closure they needed, to be able to bury their sons and go back to their lives.
More than that, though, the exchange provides a chance for both Israel and Lebanon to seal this chapter of their histories, and move beyond it. The last Lebanese prisoners in Israel were released, and both Israeli and Lebanese families received the bodies of sons killed on the battlefield. This move will not bring peace, far from it. But settling issues like these are the only way that both sides can eventually come to an understanding, and move away from the animosity and fear that serve as stumbling blocks for peace negotiations.
For more on the prisoner exchange and the wider conflict between Israel and Lebanon, tune in to Daniel Levy on NewsHour with Jim Lehrer tonight.
— Andrew Lebovich
The transcript and video of Daniel Levy’s discussion on NewsHour with Jim Lehrer with Middle East expert Professor Rami Khouri of the American University of Beirut can be found here.


14 comments on “Perspectives on the Israel-Hezbollah Prisoner Exchange

  1. arthurdecco says:

    I know next to nothing ABOUT him. Sorry for the confusion, Dan.


  2. arthurdecco says:

    Dan Kervick,
    My purpose in responding to your post wasn’t to defend the actions of Samir Quantar, OR his philosophy. I know next to nothing him.
    My point was that even thought Quntar’s story may have been unconvincing and full of holes – so was the polished script of his accusers.
    If you want all stories of war and brutality to end honorably and cleanly, with no ragged edges, I suggest you stick to American war movies or self-congratulatory novels by the likes of Tom Clancy, et al. From my perspective, real war isn’t like that and never has been.
    And can you explain what makes a child’s life more important in this equation than anyone else’s? Is it their innocence? Because lots of innocent people of all ages get killed in wars, Dan. That’s what makes all war disgusting and immoral.
    And lastly, if this poor child’s death wasn’t a tragedy, perhaps you can tell me what it was?
    Honestly. Because it certainly represents a tragedy to me.


  3. Dan Kervick says:

    Quntar’s story is unconvincing and full of holes. And does he even deny that in attempting his escape he took a non-combatant father and his four year old daughter hostage? If not, then at the very least he stands self-convicted as a repulsive coward who hid behind a child to save his own skin. I can’t blame Palestinians for launching raids on Israeli military and security personnel in Israeli-occupied territory. That’s war. But if you choose to make war, and are then caught and pinned down by your adversary in the course of your attack, then you should have the honor to either surrender or die on the field of battle. There is no excuse whatsoever for hiding behind children and putting them in the line of fire to get away. And it’s perverse to then describe the child’s death as a “tragedy”.


  4. arthurdecco says:

    Mr. Kervick,
    What evidence do you have, other than the testimony of the Israeli soldiers involved in the capture of Samir Quntar, Palestinian hostage taker, that he was responsible for the tragic deaths of this father and daughter?
    Mr. Quntar’s own, just released, testimony was that the IDF soldiers killed the father while attempting his rescue. He claims to have no knowledge of how the child died.
    His story makes as much sense as the official story, don’t you think, judging by the way we all know things can go terribly wrong in hostage taking situations like this?
    Was there ever any hard, forensic evidence offered up in a recognized court of law that disputed his claims of innocence? Or that proved conclusively that it was his hands that held the gun that killed these innocent people…Or was it the self-interested testimony of those who stood to profit from his incarceration that sealed his fate? If there was any forensic evidence, I haven’t seen any evidence of it in the press. Perhaps you could enlighten me.
    Haven’t you learned yet that you have to question every word uttered by the Israelis and their apologists? That’s not to say they can’t tell the truth – no. It’s just that they never do so unless it suits them.
    Listen to the cadences captured in this piece of unapologetic propaganda we’ve all just read:
    “Why would Israel give up a hated terrorist, a cold-blooded murderer…”
    “…what does Israel gain from negotiating with terrorist groups like Hezbollah?”
    “But as Levy points out, this exchange shows, if nothing else, the solidarity of the Israeli people, and their commitment, above everything else, to bring all of Israel’s sons home. It also gives them the closure they needed, to be able to bury their sons and go back to their lives.”
    My gawd, it’s almost embarrassing… Yellow journalism polished to a shine almost bright enough to fool us into thinking its gold when it’s not even close!


  5. Kathleen says:

    Slightly OT, but….News from J Street…
    July 17, 2008
    Doves Outnumber Hawks in Jewish Community
    by Daniel Luban
    A new poll suggests that US Jews hold views about the Middle East that are considerably more dovish than frequently acknowledged, with large majorities favoring diplomacy with Iran, supporting a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine, and advocating US withdrawal from Iraq.
    US Jews also favor Barack Obama over John McCain by a wide margin in the upcoming November presidential elections, according to the poll, which was released Wednesday by the Jewish advocacy group J Street.
    And as Washington prepares for a major summit next week hosted by Pastor John Hagee’s hawkish Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the poll finds US Jews highly skeptical of political alliances with right-wing evangelical groups such as CUFI.
    “There is a major gap between the attitudes of American Jews and the conventional wisdom about how they view America’s role in the Arab-Israeli conflict,” said Jim Gerstein of Gerstein/Agne, the firm that conducted the poll.
    The 800 US Jews surveyed overwhelmingly disapproved of the Middle East policies of the George W. Bush administration. Eighty-three percent disapproved of Bush’s overall job performance, versus 16 percent who approved; the participants also disapproved of his handling of the Iraq war by a 79-21 margin, and felt that Israel was less secure as a result of his policies by a 61-25 margin.
    The poll found widespread support for an active US role in the Arab-Israeli peace process, with 87 percent supporting such a role and 70 percent feeling that the US should push both sides to make compromises in order to achieve peace.
    Seventy-five percent of respondents saw a two state solution as necessary to strengthen Israeli security, and 72 percent saw a two state solution as an important US security interest as well.
    Further, 50 percent agreed more strongly with the statement that “Israel can only achieve real security through peace agreements”, versus 34 percent who agreed more strongly with the statement that “Israel can only achieve real security by maintaining its military superiority.”
    With regard to Iran, 69 percent said that they were more likely to vote for a candidate who rejected Bush’s equation of diplomacy with appeasement and pursued “strong but tough diplomacy” with Iran, while 21 percent said that they were less likely.
    But attitudes about military action against Iran were somewhat ambiguous. A plurality of 48 percent of respondents said that they were more likely to vote for a candidate whose positions included attacking Iran if they pursued a nuclear program or supporting an Israeli preemptive strike; 41 percent said that they were less likely.
    Respondents also favored beginning to withdraw US troops from Iraq by a 64-28 margin.
    Perhaps unsurprisingly given these positions and their historical voting record, US Jews were heavily leaning towards Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential elections. Sixty-two percent described themselves as likely to vote for Obama, versus 32 percent for his opponent, Senator John McCain.
    However, support for Israel was not particularly high on the priority list of respondents. Only 8 percent described Israel as one of the two most important issues for them in the upcoming election, placing it seventh on the list of issues; far more important were the economy (55 percent) and the war in Iraq (33 percent).
    The survey comes at a critical moment with regard to the 2008 elections. While Jews make up only about two percent of the US population, their exceptionally high rate of voter participation gives them almost twice the voting power.
    Their numbers are also concentrated in several “swing” states, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Florida, and Illinois, that could very likely decide a close election next year.
    Moreover, funding by Jewish donors of Democratic party candidates is traditionally highly significant, accounting, for example, for as much as one half of all campaign contributions received by Democratic candidates to the Senate in the last election cycle.
    The opinions revealed by the survey could therefore prove influential in shaping the positions of candidates during the election season, challenging the widespread perception that US Jews hold hard-line views about Middle East policy.
    This perception, critics charge, has been in part a product of the dominance of the hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in shaping Israel policy.
    J Street, the group that released today’s poll, was founded in April 2008 in large part out of the belief that the more dovish views of most US Jews were being neglected in Washington.
    “The poll only confirms the impression that we had that America’s elected officials have really misread the Jewish community because they have not moved beyond the loudest and most influential members of the community,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street.
    The survey also comes at a highly charged moment in Washington, as the city prepares for next week’s summit hosted by CUFI, the right-wing evangelical group headed by Pastor John Hagee.
    Hagee’s views have attracted a great deal of controversy, causing John McCain to renounce the minister’s endorsement earlier this year.
    Among other things, Hagee has claimed that Christians should seek an undivided Israel and confrontation with Iran as necessary preconditions for precipitating the Armageddon, and that Hitler was a biblically ordained “hunter” who was necessary in order to force Jews to settle in Israel.
    Yet Hagee has maintained his ties with AIPAC — he told the Jerusalem Post in 2006 that he envisioned CUFI as “a Christian version of AIPAC” — and with leading Israel hawks such as Senator Joseph Lieberman, who is slated to deliver the keynote address at the CUFI summit on Jul. 22.
    The J Street poll found little sympathy for Hagee and his organization among the broader US Jewish community.
    51 percent of participants in the survey had a negative impression of CUFI prior to being told any information about the group, compared to 19 percent who had a positive impression.
    After hearing descriptions of CUFI’s Israel policies, 78 percent of respondents felt that Jewish leaders and institutions should not form alliances with the group.
    (Inter Press Service)


  6. rich says:

    First John McCain refers to the no-longer-in-existence Czechoslovakia—now former defense ‘guru’ Sam Nunn shows how obsolete his brand of status quo militarism is in a post-Cold War world.
    “Yesterday, Sam Nunn, an oft-mentioned Obama vice-presidential candidate, referred to “Czechoslovakia” which has not existed since 1993.
    “His reference to the former country, which split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, was the third mention of Czechoslovakia during campaigning this week. On Monday and Tuesday, McCain said he was concerned about Russia’s reduction of oil supplies to the former country after an agreement with the United States on a missile defense shield.
    “But Wednesday belonged to Nunn, a former Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee. He spoke while on the campaign trail with presumptive Democratic nominee Obama in Indiana.
    “We in this country are about to, under this government, under the Bush administration, deploy [a] missile defense system in Poland and Czechoslovakia,” Nunn said.”
    As much as it’d be expedient to write this off as an understandable slip of the intellectual gears, this country can’t afford lazy rhetoric—or lazy thought processes when it comes to the wisdom of oh, throttling the sovereignty of other nations be they Russia (drawing tighter the ring of missile batteries) or Iran (demanding a sell-off of sovereign property).
    Sam Nunn has long held a reputation as a center-right Democrat whom everyone could work with.
    But I question whether that Nunn offered a viable or fruitful way forward—even in the Cold War.
    Working well with a status quo mindset, in-&-of-itself, isn’t productive when the agreed-upon consensus costs the country body and soul. A centrism that throws out the strongly-held Constitutional values of those supposedly on the ‘left’ and ‘right’ is bankrupt at the outset. It misleads.
    And Sam Nunn didn’t raise a ruckus to prevent the false gods of secrecy and the national security state from selling down the river the country he (& it) presumed to defend.
    Instead, Nunn (& Co.) laid the foundations for George Bush’s abuse of power. Hard to swallow?
    Not really. Sam Nunn wasn’t able to offer a way forward for the United States when we had every resource, all the moral standing, overwhelming power, and the favor of virtually every nation around the globe.
    Anyone could recognize that empires dont’ last forever; that power rebalances. Not us. That opportunity was squandered. It’s gone.
    But had Nunn the imagination or conservative credentials to view that moment in history as an opportunity to reshape how the U.S. conducted relations, to adhere to our defining values abroad, to capitalize on our good standing, to forge win-win arrangements that preclude abuse of military force—we wouldn’t be in this unholy mess.
    But then, Sam Nunn, Elder Statesman, has been largely silent on Bush’s scorched-America policy these last eight years. That speaks volumes; and it’s not an accident.
    Now the guy can’t keep up with the real world of national actors on the global stage. Nunn’s mental context operates 15-50 years out of date. And we shouldn’t be asked to lean on him as a viable statesman or sage counsel.
    That may seem harsh to the many who’ve respected Nunn for—35 years. But consider: just as Lee Hamilton is the guy you call in when you don’t want to find anything (sayeth a Republican statesman), Sam Nunn is the guy Establishment D.C. reverentially cites when they’re frantic not to feel any discomfort at all. He’s nonthreatening, at least until the chickens come home to roost, and the business-as-usual methods cease paying off and start costing the country, too obviously, too enormously, and with too transparently reckless disregard and disdain for authentic national security. In all the important meanings of that term.
    But let’s discard the canard that any ‘centrism’ that casts aside our shared Constitutional values is in any way moderate, reasonable, or rational. I’m happy to agree, though, that there’s a method that respects all comers, finds common ground, gets something done, and rightly rejects ideology. But that doesn’t describe what we’ve seen in Washington, D.C., for decades.
    Slaughter’s “League of Democracies” is prime case-in-point: there’s no Realpolitik whatsoever (or reasoned centrism) involved in attempting to oust China and Russia from the Security Council. The purpose of their inclusion from the outset was never to bring ‘nice guys’ to the table and have a tea party among who ‘know’ they’re way of life is ‘right’. Rather, formally seating powerful and dangerous rivals meant you could account for their positions and interests up-front, and avoid immeasurable and inconceivable back-end costs.
    Time to replace posturing moderates with policies that can withstand substantive scrutiny, and win broad suppport in the international community—on their own merits. Breaking up time-tested institutions and processes because our own bad faith and bankrupt policies fail to win the spoils of war or blockades (etc.) will cost us mightily. It’s also lazy.


  7. Dan Kervick says:

    Wow. Evan Bayh would really, really, really turn me off. He’s one of my least favorite Democrats.


  8. rich says:

    OT, but
    Mr. Obama goes to Indiana? Seriously?
    Is Senator Evan Bayh on Obama’s short list for Vice President?
    Strategically, that’s interesting and pretty smart. But it’s also a different kind of prisoner exchange.
    A Change Candidate for the Same Old Neocon Error:
    Evan Bayh was co-chair of the neocon pro-war Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which propogandized this country into war.
    This country can’t afford to steer a business-as-usual neocon course in foreig policy. And Obama can’t afford to backslide on Iraq.
    Meanwhile, John Bolton’s moustache is burning:
    “The US plans to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time in 30 years as part of a remarkable turnaround in policy by President George Bush.
    The Guardian has learned that an announcement will be made in the next month to establish a US interests section — a halfway house to setting up a full embassy. The move will see US diplomats stationed in the country.”


  9. Carroll says:

    I use to read Levy since Steve recommended him a year or two ago.
    Levy occasionally comes through with some nuggets of saying the occupation of Palestine “cannot be maintained.”
    BUT…99.9% of the time he slants events to try and make them come out in Israel’s favor,like in this instance because of course he is Israeli.
    The PR value for Israel, outside of Israel,is that it will reported in the US on blogs like this and the media that Israel got back some dead bodies and Hezbollah got back a terrorist.
    As for..”the solidarity of the Israeli people, and their commitment, above everything else, to bring all of Israel’s sons home”.
    That part is true. It is well recognized by a majority of the universe that Israelis and zionist don’t respect any life except those of Jews.
    I don’t see this as any kind of gesture of less animosity by either party, more like a PR stunt on both sides.
    I haven’t studied Hezbollah like I have Israel for the past 7 years, except during the Lebanon bombing, but one thing I know…. Israel isn’t going to change it’s spots or quit it’s occupation and genocide in Palestine until it is stepped on hard. It’s a terrorist state and we have become just like them…the only question is do we citizens step on both our own corrupt government and Israel or will someone else end up doing these jobs for us.


  10. Dan Kervick says:

    Well, it seems to me that this exchange is such a clear and overwhelming propaganda victory for Israel that one hardly needs to speculate on Israel’s motives for the exchange. Israel gives Hizbollah a brutal and fanatical murderer, one who apparently bashed in the skull of a four-year old girl. In return, Hizbollah gives back to Israel … dead guys. Gleeful Lebanese celebrate the heroic return of the toddler-basher.
    Am I missing something? Isn’t it obvious who won the propaganda case today?
    If Hizbollah actually wants to make itself look good before the eyes of the world, instead of foul and odious, I would suggest that they figure out a way of returning to Israel some prisoner who is (a) still alive, and (b) guilty of some egregious act of cruelty, aggression or barbarity. Then they could get the world to reflect for at least one day on the fact that some Israelis have committed heinous and terroristic acts as well.


  11. Mr.Murder says:

    Why was Israel’s response too strong?
    Mandatory Military Service. It hard wires the thought circuitry so their response turns reactionary to excessive levels, matching that of extremism in other forms.
    Israel is the modern Goliath.


  12. Mr.Murder says:

    No price can placed upon true closure, for persons on each side of the loss.


  13. arthurdecco says:

    Posted by Andrew Lebovich: “And what does Israel gain from negotiating with terrorist groups like Hezbollah?”
    I would suggest Israel is the terrorist group in this equation – not Hezbollah – especially since we’ve all been witness to the overpowering evidence of that during the IDF’s deliberate pulverization of the civilian infrastructure of the revitalized Lebanon in 2006, ostensibly in response to the capture of two Israeli soldiers, that contrary to the news reports of the day, were illegally in Lebanon at the time. And I haven’t even mentioned the cluster bombs that are still destroying people’s lives or the 1200 plus civilian deaths on the Lebanese side.
    It’s as Joe M. said: “I am so tired of this Zionist propaganda. those like you repeat Israel’s views like gospel and always demean the Arab perspective. Even though Israel is a racist, colonial, state that is in violation of some 50 UN Security Council Resolutions, and which has no credibility on matters of humanity or international legitimacy!”


  14. Joe M. says:

    First of all, Kuntar never belonged to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He belonged to the Palestinian Liberation Front.
    Secondly, according to the New York Times:
    “Mr. Kuntar, who was formally pardoned by Israel on Tuesday as part of the swap agreement, gave a different version of the night of the attack in his court testimony in 1980, excerpts of which were published for the first time on Monday in Yediot Aharonot, an Israeli newspaper. He told the court that Israeli gunfire had killed Mr. Haran as soldiers burst in to free him and that he did not see what happened to Mr. Haran’s daughter.”
    Then you say:
    “But as Levy points out, this exchange shows, if nothing else, the solidarity of the Israeli people, and their commitment, above everything else, to bring all of Israel’s sons home. It also gives them the closure they needed, to be able to bury their sons and go back to their lives.”
    This same thing applies to Lebanon, who’s sons are very important to them as well and who would not have captured the Zionist soldiers in the first place had they not wanted to bring their sons home…
    I am so tired of this Zionist propaganda. those like you repeat Israel’s views like gospel and always demean the Arab perspective. Even though Israel is a racist, colonial, state that is in violation of some 50 UN Security Council Resolutions, and which has no credibility on matters of humanity or international legitimacy!


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