April 1, 2014

A deal, with or without Pollard?

Once again, Israeli and Palestinian leaders are locked in the endgame of...whether to continue talks. The Obama administration seems increasingly inclined to release the convicted Israeli spy, Jonathan Pollard, to help incentivize Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's release of yet more Palestinian prisoners (to help Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas keep surviving politically) and to take a few demonstrable actions to hold down new settlement construction.

Reportedly, Pollard -- in federal custody since 1986 - has renounced any such deal, saying he doesn't want to be released as an inducement to Israel releasing convicted terrorists (many of them serving as long as himself). Will Pollard refuse to leave his Federal Correctional Facility at the appointed time?

More broadly, Pollard has actively promoted his own release as a cause celebre in Israel and within the organized American Jewish community. This has come at a cost to Israel's national security, by reminding the defense and intelligence community of his (and Israel's) past offenses, and even expressing pride on occasion. If Israel continues to rely on military and intelligence cooperation with the United States, to keep the Jewish state safe from terrorists and other threats, then Pollard has already let his case compromise the safety and security of Israelis.

I wouldn't blame Pollard, but I would also expect him to withhold his own sanctimony about this deal, which is no more or less perverse than the rest of the campaign for his release. Does he honestly believe his own legitimate fight for freedom hasn't come at a cost to Israel?

Many observers believe Pollard was unfairly sentenced to life and so far denied parole (but has he ever applied?). But unlike Gilad Shalit and other Israeli prisoners, he has not been denied due process or visitation, or review under the rule of law. And unlike Gilad Shalit, he will arrive in Israel with a well-developed agenda for Israel and for U.S.-Israel relations. And he won't be satisfied with writing on sports...

As for Netanyahu and Abbas, it's unrealistic to think either of them sees any chance of a substantive, final deal emerging from the current process. Each of them must now be focused on avoiding blame if/when the process collapses, and walking away with as many tangible and political deliverables as possible.

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