In an effort to move along peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, the Obama administration is considering the release of an American who was convicted of spying for Israel 27 years ago.
According to a New York Times story, the Israeli government often brings up the name of Jonathan J. Pollard during negotiations. Pollard was a Navy intelligence analyst and is now serving a life sentence in a North Carolina prison for passing classified documents to Israeli handlers. Negotiators for the United States have always refused his release, in part because of opposition from the country’s intelligence agencies.
Now as talks hit a stand-still, just weeks before the April 29 deadline, Secretary of State John Kerry may put Pollard’s release on the table. Talks are currently stalled because Israel has balked at a negotiated release of some Palestinian prisoners it considers to be terrorists.
In order to hasten that release, it is thought Kerry may offer to release Pollard to keep the talks moving.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that President Obama "has not made a decision” on Pollard, according to USA Today.
Carney declined further comment by saying, "I'm not going to get ahead of discussions that are underway."
A recent story by CNN on the history of the Pollard case indicates that many journalists were shocked when the judge sentenced him to life in prison 27 years ago. Most, at the the time, believed Pollard would be sentenced to 25 years, with a chance for early parole. The conviction has always been a sensitive topic between the United States and Israel, who are considered to be allies.
Israel pushed for Pollard’s release during Middle East peace talks in 1998. Then-CIA Director George Tenet threatened to resign if President Clinton acquiesced. Clinton refused the release.
Many feel that putting Pollard back on the table now shows weakness on the part of the Obama administration.
"It makes us look weak, and it makes us look desperate," said former Middle East negotiator, Aaron David Miller.
Miller and others believe that an offer of Pollard’s release should be attached to more substantive gains in the talks, rather than using it to merely jumpstart the negotiations.
"They're trading Pollard not for something consequential, but for process," Miller added. "You're trading him away for process – peanuts, basically.”
The Obama administration may not agree. Pollard is eligible for parole in November 2015. It could be better to use his release to move along the talks now, than to lose it as a bargaining chip for good.