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German Press Review: A Diplomatic Victory?

German papers on Friday were full of comment on the Middle-East prisoner exchange that took place on Thursday near Cologne and in Israel as well as the suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

The General-Anzeiger in Bonn remarked that every time there’s any kind of effort towards peace in the Middle East, it’s always sabotaged – by Palestinian suicide attacks, or the building of Israeli settlements. The paper commented that if Israel is to withdraw permanently from the occupied territories, it’s not the only side that has a duty to fulfil. The General-Anzeiger has stern words for those in Arab society who back terrorist groups, such as the Al-Aqsa Brigades who claimed responsibility for Thursday’s bombing. The propaganda and the financial support for those who aim to destroy Israel must stop, the paper wrote.

In Berlin, the daily Neues Deutschland saw the almost simultaneous suicide bombing and prisoner exchange as an illustration of the wide spectrum of possibilities inherent in the Middle East conflict. It contrasts the two alternatives: a painful negotiated compromise, or the even more painful continuation of the cycle of violence and death. Neither side was entirely happy with the final deal in the prisoner exchange, the paper wrote; but it’s a solution both can live with, however painful it may be.

The deal has however come under a lot of criticism, particularly within Israel, as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung pointed out. People are afraid that the released prisoners will return to their former activities, carrying out terrorist attacks or encouraging others to do so. There are also fears that the negotiations may have indirectly strengthened Hezbollah. The paper reported that in Lebanon, and throughout the Middle East, the returning prisoners are being heralded as heroes, and that the Lebanese are celebrating their release as a “victory over Israel”.

The Mannheimer Morgen celebrated it as a victory of a different kind – one for German diplomacy and the German secret service. This exchange was only made possible because of the degree of trust Germany has spent decades building up in the region, the paper wrote. With obvious pride, it praised Germany as an honest broker and selfless negotiator that plays a very special role in the Middle East. Germany, according to the paper, sees itself as representing Israel’s interests and acting on its behalf, while at the same time being careful not to neglect its historically good relations with Israel’s Arab neighbours. The Ostsee Zeitung in Rostock also gave German diplomacy the credit for the successful exchange. It’s well known that Hizbollah takes its orders from Iran, and that Syria has the influence in Lebanon, it said. Germany’s often been criticized for maintaining its “critical dialogue” with so-called “rogue state” Iran; but once again both this and its relations with the despised Syrian leadership have paid off, wrote the paper.