"On the Palestinian street there is now an understanding that without kidnapping soldiers, we can't get prisoners released. Through negotiation, we haven't managed to get prisoners released," the Palestinian Authority's minister for Prisoners Affairs, Ashraf al-Ajami, said over the weekend. He also offered biting criticism of Israel's willingness to trade security prisoners with Hamas and Hizbullah in exchange for kidnapped soldiers, while continuing to drag its feet on prisoner-release negotiations with the PA. Ajami said the PA had repeatedly requested a negotiated release of longtime prisoners with terminal illnesses. "But we make requests, and Israel does the opposite." Ajami said that for the Palestinians, prisoners were a critical aspect of any final-status agreement. "There can be no final agreement without a release of all Palestinian prisoners," said the minister, who spent 12 years in an Israeli prison from 1984 to 1996. Ajami also said he was concerned about the future of negotiations between Israel and the PA. "I'm sorry that I cannot present better news," he told a conference sponsored by the Geneva Initiative at Kibbutz Ma'aleh Hahamisha, west of Jerusalem, "but both sides are in a very serious situation." Ajami said that since the Annapolis Conference in November 2007, the PA government had been met with a lack of cooperation on the ground from the Olmert administration. "Annapolis was seven months ago, but we haven't managed to take down one checkpoint," he said, adding that his government had made great efforts to collect privately-held firearms in the West Bank. "Collecting those weapons is in our own interest. We can't rule effectively, with proper governance, unless the government is the sole source of armed authority," Ajami said. The minister blasted recent IDF operations in Nablus, arguing that they were carried out with the intent of weakening and embarrassing the PA. He added that he believed the negotiations for the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit from Gaza were nearing completion.