Not So Fast
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
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