Pollard and the Last-Ditch Effort to Save the Peace Talks

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva and author of the book Choosing Life in Israel. 


Jonathan-Pollard1Secretary of State John Kerry hopped over to Israel from Brussels on Monday and left Tuesday morning. The mission: rescue what is known as the peace process, which has been tottering at the brink of collapse. 

His game was to offer both sides inducements that, he hoped, they couldn’t refuse. To the Palestinians: 426 freed prisoners including 26 convicted murderers, along with a partial Israeli building freeze in Judea and Samaria (but not in East Jerusalem). In return for those favors, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas was supposed to agree to keep talking with Israel until the end of this year, and not to go to UN bodies to wage diplomatic warfare against it.

To Israel: Jonathan Pollard. In return for that favor, the Israeli government was supposed to—once again—swallow the lopsided terms and agree to keep up the pretense of the talks. 

For Israel the terms were still worse than that may sound. Four hundred of the freed Palestinian prisoners were supposed to be minor offenders whom Israel would choose, and who would be released gradually over the course of the year. But of the 26 convicted terrorists (they would be the fourth such group to be released by Israel since last summer), 14 were supposed to be Israeli Arabs.

For Israel that carries a special sting. As president of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas has no authority over Arab citizens of Israel, and his demand for the release of the 14 is a particularly brazen slap to Israel’s judicial autonomy—one that, once again, he appeared to be getting away with.

Kerry, aware of what a bitter pill Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition was being asked to ingest, decided—not necessarily, it appears, with President Barack Obama’s approval—to throw Pollard in as a sweetener.

Pollard, of course, was a U.S. navy intelligence analyst who in 1987 was given a life term for spying for Israel. Israelis are united in seeing his nearly three decades behind bars as disproportionately long, especially in light of the fact that most other Americans convicted of spying for U.S. allies have been imprisoned for less than ten years and none for nearly as long as Pollard. 

Distinguished Americans who share that view and have called for Pollard’s release include former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz; former CIA director James Woolsey; Lawrence Kolb, deputy defense secretary at the time of Pollard’s apprehension and sentencing; former Senate Intelligence Committee head Dennis DeConcini, and others. Anti-Defamation League president Abraham Foxman has finally acknowledged an antisemitic element in Pollard’s excessively lengthy confinement. Woolsey concurs: “…people shouldn’t be hung up on him being Jewish or Israeli. Pretend he’s Greek and release him.”

Pollard is up for parole in November 2015. At 59, though, he is reportedly in fragile health and was recently hospitalized twice. Netanyahu has been striving for a couple of decades to get him released. 

By late Tuesday evening in Israel, reports said that while some in Netanyahu’s coalition were still against the tentative deal, the Pollard factor would probably be enough for it to pass a cabinet vote. 

The other side was a different story, with Abbas—despite all the blandishments—signing documents in Ramallah to apply for 15 UN agencies in what was variously interpreted as either a final rebuff to Kerry’s efforts or a move aimed at wringing still more concessions. Reportedly the PA objected to the proposed deal because it did not include the freeing of two particularly heinous terrorists, Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat, and because the number of additional prisoners to be freed came to 400 instead of the initial demand of 1000.

Kerry, for his part, had reportedly canceled plans to fly back on Wednesday and meet with Abbas in Ramallah. Obama had also reportedly not yet decided to pardon Pollard in any case, and some lawmakers came out strongly against the idea of Pollard as bargaining chip. 

Whether or not the talks get extended for another nine months or so, they will break down and fail in the end for the simple reason that the Palestinian Authority continues to view Israel as its enemy and is not prepared to end the conflict. From a standpoint of common sense, that should have been clear by last summer when it turned out the only way to get the Palestinian side to participate was by freeing dozens of murderers. But Kerry, as Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon perhaps undiplomatically but astutely pointed out, did not appear driven by common sense but by a messianic fervor detached from reality.

Netanyahu, forced to deal with a delusive administration heavily biased against him and in favor of the Palestinian side, has been trying to clarify that the reason “peace” does not work is that the other side does not want it no matter how many grievous concessions Israel agrees to. If he cannot get that point across—and it may be impossible—then Israel could be left facing the PA’s post-“peace”-talks diplomatic warfare without U.S.—or any significant—support.

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  • De Doc

    Even if one thinks Pollard should be released, this deal stinks. Pollard is a harmless, fargile kook at this point, while the multitude of released Palestinians may well return to terrorism or inspire terrorism in others. This is sour bait being offered by the Obama Admin to Israel for some BS peace offer.

    • Bamaguje

      Indeed Pollard should be released unconditionally. After all Obama released Lynne Stewart, the unrepentant disbarred anti-American Jihad collaborator who abetted Muslim brotherhood terrorism of convicted WTC bomber – Omar Abdel-Rahman.

  • ShalomFreedman

    I believe we are doing something wrong and shameful by ‘paying’ for continuation of the negotiations that all know will amount to nothing. We are sacrificing basic moral principles by releasing terrorist murderers. We are injuring the families of the victims. We are trying to appease the United States and the Obama Administration.
    I think that is immoral behavior will get us nowhere. It will not stop Iran and certainly not change the fundamental Palestinian attitude which is that Israel must be , one way or another, destroyed.
    Courage is in order here, however difficult the consequences.

  • Esther Suzern

    How many Jews will be murdered by the terrorists released in any “deal” to get Pollard out?

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  • Mladen_Andrijasevic

    It is all very simple indeed. The Palestinians will never agree to a deal because it would mean that they have abandoned jihad and that they cannot do since it is one of the tenets of their religion

    A mini 5 + 1 question quiz for Secretary Kerry
    http://www.madisdead.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/a-mini-5-1-question-quiz-for-secretary.html

    • kertitor

      It is not only “one of their religion”, but the main source of their income

  • TheOrdinaryMan

    Saxby Chambliss? A corrupt Republican Senator. He doesn’t like “folks who have harmed America let back into public life.” What about all the “folks” who’ve harmed America let out of prison after only a few years in jail? He’s got nothing to say about them.

    • Bamaguje

      Pollard didn’t harm America. He may have spied for Israel but he didn’t harm America.

  • JVictor

    “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results,” is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein. When one looks up the word “insanity” in the “Get Your Heads Out of the Sand Dictionary,” one finds the definition “negotiating with supporters and financiers of antisemitic atrocities from countries and organizations expecting them to honestly honor any brokered peace arrangement. See also Yassar Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, and John Kerry.”

  • J H

    You forgot to mention that Pollard himself refused to be part of this deal. He would rather stay in jail than to see hundreds of murderers released because of him.

    • Bamaguje

      If true, I salute his courage and resolve.

    • Ken Kelso

      I admire Pollard for that.

  • DVult

    Abbas signed papers to apply to 15 UN agencies. Fine. Withhold funding to the UN and let them know that if “Palestine” is admitted to even one of those agencies then the funding will be cut off permanently.

  • Gary Pollack

    Why is Kerry so relentless on Israel freeing these murderers? One of them is the man who set a pipe bomb on the beach in Tel Aviv that killed my friends daughter. Imagine how they feel without even an explanation of why this is being done. This will not allow for peace but will allow more mkillings of Israelis. Does Kerry think these 26 will stop doing what they believe in…the inilation of all Jews and Israelis.

  • logdon

    Pollard is a cheap and desperate Kerry shot and for Israel to fall for it is quite unfathomable.