The Middle East peace process will always be difficult, but it may have reached such a new level of complexity that it could result in the United States freeing a convicted Israeli spy serving a life sentence in an American prison.
To do so would further undermine the United States’ security, already under attack by the likes of traitorous Edward Snowden.
Until peace talks collapsed Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu were in urgent discussions over the possible release of Jonathan Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy who was arrested in 1985 for handing over classified documents to his Israeli handlers.
There had been reports a deal has been worked out to free Pollard so as to prod Israel into freeing Palestinian prisoners. But Kerry then canceled a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority after Abbas moved to join 15 international agencies, despite objections from Israel and the United States. The United States views this as an effort to achieve Palestinian statehood without negotiations with Israel.
That leaves the peace process in doubt, but Pollard is likely to remain a key consideration, which is unfortunate. Pollard doesn’t deserve Israel’s concern. The Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens aptly and devastatingly describes him as “a compulsive liar and braggart, fond of cocaine, who violated his oaths, spied on his country, inflicted damage that took billions of dollars to repair, accepted payment for his spying, jeopardized Israel’s relationship with its closest ally, failed to show remorse at the time of his sentencing, made himself into Exhibit A of every anti-Semitic conspiracy nut, and then had the chutzpah to call himself a martyr to the Jewish people.”
American military and intelligence officials have long opposed the release of Pollard and, despite repeated pleas from Israel, Obama and previous presidents have refused to turn him loose. But the dim prospects of peace in the Middle East without such a concession appeared to be changing some minds in Washington. Now Abbas has pulled the rug out from under that effort — at least temporarily.
Until Abbas’ surprise move, the Obama administration seemed to have believed Pollard’s release could breathe new life into the stalled peace negotiations between Netanyahu and Abbas.
Under the proposed deal, Israel would have honored an earlier promise to free a group of long-serving Palestinian prisoners as well as 400 other prisoners, many of them women and children.
But those designated for release also included 14 Arab-Israelis jailed for nationalist attacks. Some government ministers have said they’ll resign if these 14 are freed.
As one American official told a Middle East newspaper, a “big concession” by the United States was needed to persuade Israel to offer a concession of its own in order to keep the peace process alive.
And the American concession was to be the release of Pollard.
Being forced to release a traitor in a desperate bid to maintain peace talks would surely be viewed as a sign of weakness by America’s friends and foes alike.
It looks as if Abbas’ stunt has spared the United States such an embarrassment — for now.
It may be appropriate at some point to release the aging and ailing Pollard, despite his grievous transgressions, for humanitarian purposes. But the administration should not allow Pollard to be entangled in the peace process.