Washington Bureau

04.01.14

Israeli Spy Would Accept Release In Mideast Deal

Jonathan Pollard, Israel's most notorious spy, would take the deal for his freedom, even if it means Israel would have to release more Palestinian prisoners in exchange.

Despite the opposition from the Anti-Defamation League and some Israeli politicians, convicted spy Jonathan Pollard would accept the commutation of his sentence as part of a larger deal to preserve the flailing peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Aaron Troodler, a spokesman for the campaign to free Pollard, told The Daily Beast Tuesday, "Jonathan Pollard would not reject the commutation of his sentence. The deal that is currently being discussed is by no means a quid pro quo, rather it’s a gesture being made by the United States to Israel. The fact is this is not a tit for tat. It’s part of a larger agreement."

But that is not how other prominent Jewish groups that have supported freeing Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst who was sentenced to life in prison for spying on the United States on behalf of Israel, see it. In a statement released Tuesday, the Anti-Defamation League said, "While the time has come for clemency, Pollard’s release should not be intertwined with any potential resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict." Danny Danon, Israel's Deputy Defense Minister, said this week that he would resign from the government if Israel agreed to free more Palestinian prisoners, even if Obama freed Pollard.

The Daily Beast confirmed reports yesterday that the Obama administration was considering a deal to release Pollard in exchange for more concessions from Israel aimed at keeping the flailing peace process that began last year from collapse. The Israeli press reported Tuesday that Pollard waived a parole hearing this week. He would be eligible for parole next year. 

While the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly pressed President Obama for years to release the convicted spy, it is nonetheless highly controversial to tie his release to the peace process. Netanyahu has come under considerable criticism from right wing parties in his coalition government for agreeing to release Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were incarcerated for violent crimes against Jews. One of those prisoners released was found guilty of killing an American citizen.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday canceled a scheduled visit to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas after Abbas announced plans to move forward with his plan to join U.N. bodies as an independent state. Both the United States and Israel have said this move would undermine the negotiations for a two state solution to the Arab-Israeli crisis. 

The release of Pollard could be one way to preserve those negotiations. Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told the Daily Beast the decision about Pollard is up to the Israelis and the Americans.

"We would like to see Pollard free in time for Passover [which starts on the evening of April 14]," he said. "But the decision about whether this relates to the negotiations is up to the United States and Israel."