Not So Fast
April 1, 2014
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The White House is considering Israel's request to release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard to salvage the latest round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel — and especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — has been increasingly pushing for Pollard's release since the mid-1990s.

Successive administrations since Pollard's 1985 conviction have refused entreaties to release the former Navy intelligence officer who passed on huge amounts of classified documents to a foreign government, even an ally like Israel. The intelligence community has vehemently fought clemency for Pollard. At The Washington Post, Adam Taylor has a helpful synopsis of the Pollard case, what each side wants, and why.

But what would the U.S. get for releasing Pollard to Israel now? It appears, nothing more than a probable extension of peace talks after the April 29 end point. Specifically, it would encourage Netanyahu to release a fourth and final round of Palestinian prisoners from a group he agreed to release last summer. That seems like a poor trade-off.

"Some analysts questioned the wisdom of giving up one of the few leverage points the United States has when it is not clear it would gain more than an extension in the talks, much less a full-blown agreement," note Mark Landler and Michael R. Gordon in The New York Times. Former Mideast peace negotiator Aaron David Miller is blunter still. "If you can't get the deal without releasing Pollard, that's truly a catastrophe," he says.

Pollard is reportedly ill, and he is up for possible parole next year, putting a potential statute of limitations on his utility as a bargaining chip. But while a lasting Mideast peace agreement is an eminently worthy goal, it's also one that primarily helps Israel and the Palestinians; if they don't have enough urgency to continue talks without U.S. sweeteners, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry should probably move on to a more promising enterprise. Obama wouldn't be the first president to try and fail to broker peace in the long-festering conflict. --Peter Weber

Israel and Palestine
1:10 p.m. ET
Musa Al-Shaer/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli authorities banned Palestinians — including Jerusalem residents — from entering the capital's Old City on Sunday, The New York Times reports.

The only exception to the ban was reportedly for Palestinians who wanted to worship at the Al Aqsa Mosque, where men under 50 are not typically allowed.

About 3,500 police officers in Jerusalem closed off some of the capital's Arab neighborhoods Sunday. The move came after the second deadly Palestinian attack on Israeli families in three days, where two ultra-Orthodox men were fatally stabbed. Julie Kliegman

squad goals
12:34 p.m. ET

The bad blood between pop stars Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus might run even deeper than previously thought. When Cyrus hosted Saturday Night Live, the show devoted a whole segment to relentlessly mocking her colleague's ever-growing squad.

On her 1989 tour, Swift has garnered attention for a mile-long list of invitations for celebrities to join her on stage: Lena Dunham, Uzo Aduba, Julia Roberts, Keith Urban, and Kobe Bryant, to name a very small fraction.

In a post-apocalyptic sketch that feels way too real, SNL dared to imagine what will happen when everyone forcibly joins Swift's cult.

Vanessa Bayer woke up in a dark, dark world where the few remaining survivors live in constant fear of being abducted to join Swift on stage.

"First it was the models. And then the athletes," a distraught Kenan Thompson said, moments before his own abduction. "Then it was everybody."

Watch your imminent demise unfold below. Julie Kliegman

lgbt rights
11:27 a.m. ET
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Vice President Joe Biden said transgender people should be able to serve openly in the military, a stance that goes beyond anything the Obama administration has said before, The Associated Press reports.

"It's simple," Biden said at the Human Rights Campaign gala Saturday night. "All Americans are qualified to serve, should be able to serve."

In July, Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered a review of the policy banning transgender people from service.

Biden is known for supporting LGBT rights more vocally than other prominent Democrats. In 2012, he backed same-sex marriage before President Obama and Hillary Clinton did.

The vice president, who is still deciding whether to enter the 2016 race, also used the keynote as a chance to slam his would-be Republican opponents.

After noting how far the U.S. has come in supporting LGBT rights, Biden added a wry caveat: "There's homophobes still left — most of them are running for president." Julie Kliegman

School Shootings
10:56 a.m. ET

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump doesn't believe stricter gun control would result in fewer mass shootings, he said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press. In fact, he thinks more guns could be the answer to stop gunmen like Christopher Harper-Mercer, who fatally shot nine people at an Oregon community college Thursday.

"I can make the case that if there were guns in that room other than his, fewer people would've died, fewer people would've been so horribly injured," he told Chuck Todd.

Both on NBC and in a similar interview on ABC's This Week, Trump blamed gun violence on mental illness.

"No matter how you cut it, you have people that are mentally ill, and they have problems and they're going to slip through the cracks," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

In fact, only 4 percent of U.S. violence can be linked to people diagnosed with mental illness, according to a 2015 American Journal of Public Health report debunking the exaggerated role some believe mental illness plays in mass shootings.

Watch Trump's Meet the Press comments below and check out his This Week interview here. Julie Kliegman

the new boehner
9:32 a.m. ET
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) formally announced his bid for House speaker in a Fox News Sunday interview.

He'll be up against Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is favored to take over when John Boehner steps down Oct. 30.

"The American people want a fresh face and a fresh new person," Chaffetz said.

Chaffetz, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, told Politico he would treat the position as a facilitator.

"I'm not here to be a dictator, but to empower members to do what they see fit," he said. "I want the process to work its way through the body." Julie Kliegman

she's probably still a robot though
8:29 a.m. ET

In her latest attempt to convince voters she isn't a humorless robot, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton took to Saturday Night Live to poke fun at herself.

Clinton played Val, an ordinary bartender, to Kate McKinnon's Clinton, who was feeling down on her 2016 chances. The two acknowledged Clinton took a long time to oppose the Keystone pipeline and support same-sex marriage.

When McKinnon mentioned Trump, the real politician mustered a surprisingly decent Donald voice and said, "Isn't he the one that's like, 'Ugh, you're all losers.'"

To further hit home that she's a good sport, Clinton even tweeted praise of McKinnon's performance:

And for his part, Trump retweeted a supporter who slammed Clinton's performance but complimented Taran Killam's ruthless impression of him, showcased in Saturday's cold open.

Even former President Bill Clinton dropped by (as played by SNL vet Darrell Hammond) to kick off the show's 41st season. Watch it all unfold below. Julie Kliegman

military matters
7:49 a.m. ET

Doctors Without Borders closed its northern Afghanistan hospital Sunday, one day after being hit in airstrikes possibly carried out by U.S. forces, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The organization evacuated its foreign staff after at least 12 staff members and seven patients were killed in the assault that partially destroyed the Kunduz building. It also denied that Taliban fighters were behind the attack.

Th hospital, in the town overtaken by Taliban forces Monday, was reportedly the only facility in the area equipped to treat serious injuries.

The U.S. military is conducting an investigation into the incident. President Obama offered his "deepest condolences" to the victims in a statement late Saturday. Julie Kliegman

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