Convicted U.S. spy Jonathan Pollard will not be freed from prison in time to celebrate Passover in Israel, but Jewish leaders are encouraged that he may soon regain his freedom anyway.
Labor Party leader Nachman Shai, the Knesset member who leads the coalition pushing for Pollard’s release, recently told The Jerusalem Post: "At least the American taboo on Pollard has been removed, and they are ready to release him. Now the question is only the price."
In March, the Obama administration floated a proposal to release Pollard in return for Israeli concessions, including the release of 400 more Palestinian prisoners convicted of acts of terror, violence, and other crimes.
It was hoped the prisoner release could induce Palestinian leaders to extend the current peace talks deadline, now set to expire April 29.
The Palestinians, frustrated by an Israeli delay in a scheduled prisoner release, instead opted to seek nation-state recognition in several international organizations. Israeli officials decried that move as unilateral and counterproductive, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry canceled a scheduled round of diplomacy between the two sides.
Despite that setback, U.S. diplomats recently informed the Israelis that Pollard’s release is still on the table. According to a recent Jerusalem Post report, Palestinians are considering a new proposal involving the release of prisoners in return for an extension of peace negotiations at least through the end of the year. That deal would presumably freeze the Palestinians’ bid to enlist the support of the international community.
A diplomatic source told the Post: "The release of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard from a U.S. prison is still a possibility the U.S. administration will consider, if the sides reach a deal that includes Israel freeing terrorists."
Sarah Stern, former National Policy Coordinator for the Zionist Organization of America, and founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, tells Newsmax that Pollard should be released, calling his ongoing imprisonment "a huge travesty of the American justice system."
But Stern says Pollard, who has been in custody for nearly 30 years, should be released independently of Middle East peace negotiations.
"To trade Jonathan Pollard for murderers, terrorists, who have blood on their hands, is a disgusting trade," Stern tells Newsmax. "I have spent countless, countless hours with the families of those who have been killed by Palestinian terrorists.
"It is a total outrage that they would give up one spy — who spied, and what he did was wrong — for scores and scores, nearly 400 terrorists and murders."
She added that the Obama administration’s willingness to dangle Pollard’s release as part of a three-way deal is a sign of desperation.
"It shows how desperate they are to keep the so-called peace process going," she says.
"This is just a Hail Mary pass."
Stern, author of "Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamist Terrorist Network: America and the West’s Fatal Embrace,"
says Palestinian leaders cannot concede the Jewish nation’s right to exist "without choking on the words."
"In order for the peace process to end up in a real and genuine peace, [the Palestinians] have got to stop their demands that are so recalcitrant."
The Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and continue to insist on a freeze on settlements. Israel’s leaders insist it is meaningless to try to negotiate a compromise with officials who reject the Jewish state’s right to be there in the first place.
As for Pollard, former CIA director R. James Woolsey has stated that a prison term of six to seven years would have been reasonable for him, based on the time served by spies caught working for other U.S. allies, such as South Korea and the Philippines.
That Pollard, a civil analyst working for the U.S. Navy, handed extremely sensitive documents over to the Israeli government is beyond dispute. He was arrested in 1985 outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., and in 1987 was sentenced to life in prison on one count of espionage.
A deal was nearly struck for Pollard’s release in 1998. But then-CIA director George J. Tenet was so upset by that bargain that he reportedly threatened to resign, and the deal for Pollard’s release fell through.
Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, remarked on Pollard’s unusual prison term in a Newsmax op-ed: "I come to this conclusion with much sorrow and, as noted, as someone who resisted efforts early on to connect the Pollard affair to anti-Semitism. It is harder and harder to do so any longer."
Asked if she agrees with Foxman’s anti-Semitism charge, Stern said: "What Jonathan Pollard did was wrong, believe me. Nobody should spy against the United States. He took an oath.
"Having said that, the punishment far exceeds the crime in comparison to others. So I would have to regretfully concur with Abe Foxman’s explanation."
If U.S. officials don’t act soon, Pollard’s release may become a moot point. He will become eligible for parole in November 2015, the date marking his completion of 30 years behind bars.
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