US weighs releasing Jonathan Pollard

Acknowledged Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard may be released as part of a deal to get Israel to extend peace talks with the Palestinians.

Pollard pleaded guiilty in 1987 to espionage charges and was given a life sentence. Through the years, the state of Israel claimed him as an intelligence asset, granted him citizenship, and have constantly lobbied for his release. Fierce resistance to granting him clemency from American intelligence agencies has stood in the way of Mr. Pollard's freedom.

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is considering Pollard's release as part of a deal to encourage Israel to extend an April 29 deadline for talks with the Palestinians.

Raising Mr. Pollard’s case now carries extra resonance because this round of talks is in danger of breaking down over whether Israel will release a fourth and final batch of Palestinian prisoners.

The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has said that unless Israel releases the prisoners as promised, he will not consider any extension past the April target date for negotiating the outlines of a comprehensive treaty. But Israeli leaders, who assert that the Palestinians have yet to make meaningful concessions, have threatened to halt the prisoner release unless the talks are extended — creating a chicken-and-egg problem for Mr. Kerry.

For the second time in a week, Mr. Kerry interrupted visits in European capitals to rush to the Middle East to confer on the peace talks. He met Monday evening with Mr. Netanyahu and later with Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

“The Israelis would say to Kerry: ‘You’re asking us to allow the release of prisoners who have 50 deaths on their hands. Surely you can release one man who means a lot to the Israeli people,’ ” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel.

In Washington, the arguments against releasing Mr. Pollard are no longer as compelling as they once seemed. After nearly three decades in prison, he is no longer a threat to national security, and his parole is looming. If Mr. Pollard is a chit to be played in the talks, it will lose value over time. Two former secretaries of state, Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Shultz, have called for clemency, as has a former C.I.A. director, R. James Woolsey Jr.

“Many in the intelligence community have opposed out of habit rather than considered argument,” said Dennis B. Ross, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama on the Middle East. “The instinct will, thus, still be negative but may be less vehement.”

Pollard's defenders insist his motives were noble. They claim that he was turning over intelligence to Israel being withheld by the US that was vital to its security.

That may be. But how noble is it to receive $10,000, plus $1,500 a month, and an expensive ring in payment for top secret documents? And Pollard sold secrets not only to the Israelis, but to South Africa and Pakistan as well. His wife uitilzed some documents to further her private business interests.

His defenders counter that the sentence does not match the severity of his crimes and that US intelligence doesn't want him released because they were embarrassed by revelations that they werer not sharing vital intel with an ally. Where one stands on Pollard's release used to be something of a litmus test for support of Israel, but not any more. It's been 27 years and a growing number of influential Americans think that Pollard has served enough time and deserves to be released.

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