The United States has allegedly pulled out its ace in the hole this week, reportedly offering at last to free imprisoned Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard in exchange for the release by Israel of 26 Palestinian Authority terrorist prisoners.
The move, reported Wednesday morning by Ilil Shachar on IDF Army Radio, would force Israel to complete the last of a four-stage prisoner release that has thus far freed 78 PA inmates from Israeli jails.
Israeli government officials could not be reached for comment. A spokesperson for Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett told The Jewish Press, “Nothing is official, and we have not been given any information at this point. We haven’t been told anything other than the report we heard this morning on the radio.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed eight months ago to the “good will gesture” as a means of testing the truth of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s resolve as a peace partner in working towards a final status deal.
Netanyahu stated from the outset in an “open letter to the citizens of Israel” that the process would depend upon the actions of the PA and its ability to prove it is “really serious and not playing games.”
Pollard’s incarceration in 1985 on a single charge of passing classified information to an allied nation (Israel) has long been a sore point for Jews and Israelis the world over. The crime normally carries a maximum prison term of two to four years. Pollard has been often been held in harsh and sometimes inhumane conditions, and has suffered serious health problems as a result. Despite numerous appeals for his release by hundreds of American and Israeli leaders, every U.S. president has turned a deaf ear to requests for clemency, to terminate his sentence to time served.
According to the report, the alleged U.S. decision to offer Pollard in exchange for the PA prisoners came after Prime Minister Netanyahu told the White House officials that too many of his coalition members opposed the release.
Among those opposing the release were senior officials including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Communications Minister Gilad Erdan and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz.
Shachar reported the U.S. proposed the swap deal for Pollard on condition that Israel would free the fourth round of 26 PA terrorists, which includes some 20 Israeli Arab citizens. The PA, in return, would also agree not to withdraw from the talks at least until the end of 2014.
Nevertheless, it is entirely possible the offer may have come too late.
Israeli advocacy groups, the Israeli public and numerous Israeli officials appear fed up with the White House intransigence on Pollard’s incarceration – and resent using him as a bargaining chip over the safety of Israeli citizens. Some have said they will not agree to support such a deal.
Pollard himself has said that he will not agree to be used in a prisoners swap for Arab terrorists.
Mahmoud Abbas told the Arab League yesterday at its summit in Kuwait that the PA has no interest in continuing negotiations with Israel. Both the Arab League and the Palestinian Authority has categorically refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish State. They continue to insist on the so-called “right of return” for millions of Arabs, generations later, to return to homes they fled after the wars of 1948 and 1967. They also insist Israel hand them a major part of Jerusalem including Judaism’s holy sites, to which Jews would then have no access whatsoever.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other officials are set to meet with PA leaders to discuss the proposal today.
Hana Levi Julian