Reports: Pollard Deal 'Nearly Sealed'

Image: Reports: Pollard Deal 'Nearly Sealed' Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Jerusalem on March 31.

Tuesday, 01 Apr 2014 09:22 AM

By Newsmax Wires

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In a possible breakthrough in the Middle East peace talks, Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed Tuesday to most of the details of a deal that would include the U.S. release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in return for Israeli concessions with the Palestinians, according Haaretz, the Israeli publication.

An official close to the discussions said the deal would also extend talks into 2015. The release of Pollard, who has spent more than 25 years in an American jail, would be released before Passover in exchange for the release of 400 Palestinian prisoners.

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The United States is working to get approval from the Palestinians, and a source told The Jerusalem Post that Kerry wanted Netanyahu to call a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday to sign off on the proposed deal.

"Things are not sealed yet, but we are not far from it," a senior Israeli official with knowledge of the negotiation details told Haaretz. "We are waiting for the Palestinians' response."

President Obama has not made a decision to release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

"Jonathan Pollard was convicted of espionage and he is serving his sentence," Carney said.

"I don't have any other update to provide you on Mr. Pollard's status. There are obviously a lot of things happening in that arena and I am not going to get ahead of discussions that are under way," he said.

U.S. President Barack Obama has not made a decision to release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday.

"There are obviously a lot of things happening in that arena and I am not going to get ahead of discussions that are under way," Carney said, according to Reuters.

In addition to the release of Pollard, the deal will include four key clauses, according to Haaretz:

  • Palestinians will agree to extend negotiations into 2015 to avoid unilateral moves at the United Nations;
  • Israel will release the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners, which will include 14 Israeli Arab prisoners;
  • Israel will release another 400 Palestinian prisoners "without blood on their hands" who are about to finish their sentences;
  • Israel will freeze most of the construction in the settlements with the exception of East Jerusalem.
The United States has been negotiating with Israel and the Palestinians for months to extend talks past the April 29 deadline, but talks were on the brink of collapse this weekend when Israel failed to move forward with a planned release of several dozen Palestinian prisoners.

Kerry has visited the region more than 10 times in a little more than a year in an effort to secure a peace deal in the decades-old conflict.

The deal to release Pollard, however, has been, and continues to be, a point of contention. The White House and U.S. intelligence agencies have long opposed the concession, which was proposed by Kerry months ago, but there was shift in that position when talks appeared to be at risk of collapse, according to Haaretz.

Pollard, an American citizen who was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995, pleaded guilty in 1987 and was convicted of spying for Israel.

Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee told The Daily Beast they oppose releasing Pollard.

Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she is against the release as a condition of continuing peace talks. Republican Saxby Chambliss said Pollard has "done a lot of harm to America," and he is opposed to releasing Pollard under any circumstances.

Meanwhile, Israeli Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel said Tuesday he would oppose any accord that would secure Pollard's freedom in exchange for the release of more Palestinian prisoners, telling Army Radio that Pollard is against being part of a prisoner exchange, according to the Jerusalem Post.

"I was personally told he is against being released in such a disgraceful deal," said Ariel, a member of Bayit Yehudi. He added that Pollard deserved unconditional freedom and not to be swapped for Palestinian "murderers," according to the Jerusalem Post.

American commentators have mixed views on the deal to release Pollard.

Leading civil libertarian and staunch Israel defender Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law professor, author, and Newsmax contributor, hailed the prospect of Pollard’s release as long overdue.

"I actually urged the White House to do that about a year ago when the White House was pressuring Israel to release more prisoners," Dershowitz told Newsmax on Monday.

"I suggested that the deal be more triangular: that if Israel is being pressured to release murderers with blood on their hands, who might commit more murders, then certainly the United States could throw something into the pot by releasing an old man who poses absolutely no danger to the United States. So, I hope it happens.

"Remember how difficult it is for Israel to free prisoners," Dershowitz said. "These are people who have killed in cold blood. Some of them, when they’ve been released, have gone back to terrorist activities. So it’s very, very difficult.

"Just imagine Americans today releasing somebody like [Boston Marathon bombing suspect] Tsarnaev as part of a deal. Americans wouldn’t accept that, it would be utterly unacceptable.

"Or releasing someone who had done 9/11. For Israel, that’s what they’re being asked to do essentially, and it’s very difficult. This would help enormously."

Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, however, told Newsmax the Pollard-for-Palestinian prisoners deal smacks of desperation on behalf of the administration. She called it, "The dumbest thing I’ve heard in a long time … it’s stupid on the part of everybody involved."

"I do think that [Secretary of State] Kerry, for completely unknown reasons, believes that it is of desperate importance that the peace process somehow moves forward," she said. "Why he thinks that, when absolutely no one else in the region, other than the Palestinians, believes it, is a mystery to me."

She said her primary objection was that the deal would make it appear the administration had to bribe one of its allies to elicit its cooperation.

"I have a feeling that if required, Kerry would strip nude in the center of Jerusalem," Pletka said. "Nothing is too ridiculous. But again, presumably there are other adults involved here, and I find the whole thing farcical."

AP contributed to this report.

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