An offer Israel can't refuse?
Secretary 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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