Let me just say it: No, no, no, no!
We’re hearing this morning – intentionally hearing, since these reports are clearly trial balloons of some sort – that the US is again considering releasing convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. To review, if you don’t know the backstory: Pollard was a civilian working for US Navy intelligence who was arrested and convicted for passing copious classified information to Israel. The fact that Pollard was a Jew spying for Israel made the case extremely charged, for good reasons and bad. Not surprisingly, the Israeli government has been lobbying for decades to get him released. No big surprise there. We try to get our spies released too. But if the White House is seriously considering using Pollard as a bargaining chip at this stage of the negotiations they’ve totally lost their minds.
Let me be clear: If we were on the brink of a true global settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis, it would be entirely reasonable to release Pollard as a sweetener to mollify Israeli opinion. He’s already served almost thirty years in prison and is actually up for possible parole in 2015. But more specifically, spying is inherently political between states. And spies are frequently swapped as parts of larger political bargains. Given all the US interests in getting a peace deal in Israel/Palestine, it would be a no-brainer if releasing him could provide the final nudge to get the job done.
But to everyone’s great misfortune – and my personal disillusion and sadness – the two sides are not even remotely close to any sort of agreement. They are having desultory negotiations about what the terms of negotiations might be. Figuratively, if not literally, they’re arguing over the shape of the negotiating table. And the Netanyahu government has gone to every length to sabotage the negotiations, going so far – in breach of every protocol vis a vis its great power protector – as to allow his government’s ministers to repeatedly castigate and insult the US’s negotiator, Secretary of State John Kerry.
Pollard should be a chit. As I said, he’s served almost all of his minimum sentence. And it’s entirely reasonable to free even the worst of spies to secure critical US interests. This is certainly one. But here we seem even to be considering offering this prize in exchange for inconsequential concessions which can easily be taken back once Pollard is in Israel. (Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995.)
The impasse is largely based on the Netanyahu government’s active efforts to scuttle the negotiations themselves. So this amounts to offering a thing of great value in exchange for getting dust kicked in your face.
It would be idiotic, cowardly and ridiculous.