Possible release of Israeli spy spurs uproar

(USA TODAY) -- A U.S. consideration to free spy Jonathan Pollard to breathe life into stagnant peace talks has politicians, settlers and activists on all sides in an uproar over whether the price is too high.

Israel's news media reported Monday that the Obama administration is weighing the release of Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew convicted of spying for Israel, in return for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians on settlement building and freeing of Palestinian prisoners.

Longtime observers of the Pollard saga say the talk is creating controversy given that his release has been long sought by a right wing in Israel also opposed to the release of Palestinian prisoners and limiting home building for growing Jewish families in the settlements on the West Bank.

Jonathan Rynhold, senior researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Affairs at Bar Ilan University, said Pollard's incarceration resonates strongly in Israel, "where soldiers are told to never leave one of their fellow soldiers behind. There is also some shame over how Israel dealt with Pollard at the time."

Perhaps more than anything else, "Israelis feel if they're being asked to release Palestinian prisoners who have Israeli blood on their hands for the sake of moving peace process forward, the least the U.S can do is release someone who even most American believe should have been released a while back," Rynhold said.

Pollard was convicted of spying after providing Israel with thousands of classified documents, including intelligence on the Soviet military, while working as a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy in the 1980s.

Arrested in 1985 after the Israeli Embassy in Washington refused to give him safe haven, Pollard received a life sentence. He is eligible for parole in November 2015.

Secretary of State John Kerry spent much of Monday and Tuesday morning discussing the terms of a possible deal with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. The hope is that concessions on both sides might move along stalled peace talks that began in July.

Opposition came out strong Monday from the YESHA Council of Jewish settlers, a powerful group politically that represents Jews living in the West Bank.

"The amount of time John Kerry has invested in attempting to secure the release of convicted terrorists and his manipulative use of Jonathan Pollard are shameful," said Dani Dayan, chief foreign envoy of the YESHA Council of Jewish settlements.

"It is about time we put an end to this never ending farce that stems from the Palestinians ever-growing demands and intransigence."

Danny Danon, a member of the Israeli legislature and part of the Cabinet of Netanyahu, threatened to quit the government if the deal is taken even though he supports Pollard's release.

"It is now clear to even those who wear rose-colored glasses that the Palestinians were cynically using our goodwill to ensure the release of their terrorists while continuing with their plan to establish the state of Palestine and replace the Jewish state of Israel," he said.

Netanyahu needs the approval of his Cabinet to accept such a deal. Danon, who is a deputy secretary of Defense, said he told Netanyahu he must resign if the government "releases terrorists for the mere right to sit at the negotiating table with the Palestinians."

"I will not be able to look into the eyes of the family members who lost their loved ones in terror attacks if we continue to go down this mistaken path."

Jerusalem resident lan Farakash told Israel's IBA News that Pollard "should have been released years ago."

Unlike many of the Palestinians Israel has released from prison at the urging of President Obama, "he's not a murder," Farakash said.

The Palestinian Authority leadership in Ramallah was to meet on Tuesday to discuss the offer but said Pollard had nothing to do with Palestinian convicts serving time in Israel, according to Voice of Palestine radio.

The proposed agreement includes an Israeli commitment to carry out a scheduled fourth release of Palestinian prisoners, including Arab citizens of Israel, and 400 other Palestinian prisoners incarcerated for crimes other than murder.

The Palestinians would commit to extend the peace negotiations for another year and to not seek independence in the United Nations during this period.

Israel would agree to freeze most construction in most West Bank settlements but not in Jerusalem, which Israel says is its undivided capital. The U.S. would release Pollard prior to April 14, the start of the Passover holiday.

"We completely reject any link between Pollard and the release of our prisoners or with the extension of negotiations. As for extending these talks, we must be clear that the release of prisoners is completely unlinked to the negotiations," said Palestinian spokesperson Jami Shehada.

Palestinian negotiators say they will only agree to extend the talks if Israel frees 1,000 prisoners.

Pollard, at first abandoned by Israel after his arrest, has over time become an iconic figure to many Israelis who believe the U.S. was withholding intelligence information vital to Israel's security and that he was acting in the best interest of Israel.

Pollard has served a longer prison term than any other person caught spying for an American ally. U.S. presidents have refused requests from Israel to release Pollard on the advice of U.S. military and intelligence officials, although Rynhold says some have recently said he has served long enough.


To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment