John Kerry rushed to Israel yesterday to try slap another layer of duct tape on the failing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. In a huge surprise, rumors began to surface that the United States is dangling jailed Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard as bait for Israel’s cooperation in extending the talks. A release of Pollard, who was arrested in November 1985 after passing secret documents to Israel while working as a civilian analyst working for U.S. Navy, would mark a reversal of almost three decades of official U.S. policy.
The United States and Israel each want this round of peace talks to continue. The Palestinians are insisting on additional “good-will” gestures to continue talking. Each time talks have started over the past few years there has been an Israeli release of people jailed for terrorist acts, a construction freeze, or some other gesture.
If the U.S. is even thinking of releasing Pollard it means that Israel is refusing to make another one-sided gesture and the talks are within a hairsbreadth of falling apart.
The Jerusalem Post is reporting:
In return for the release [Pollard’s], the people close to the talks said, Israel would have to undertake significant concessions to the Palestinians in Middle East negotiations. Such concessions could include some kind of freeze on Israeli settlements in disputed territory, the release of Palestinian prisoners beyond those Israel has already agreed to free and a guarantee that Israel would stay at the negotiating table beyond an end-of-April deadline.
A Pollard release has much support in the United States; former White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum, former Secretary of State George Schultz, former Undersecretary of State Elliot Abrams, former CIA Director James Woolsey, former Congressman Allen West and former V.P. Dan Quayle have all written letters to President Obama calling for clemency.
Pollard’s supporters will say the information he passed to Israel was supposed to go to Israel anyway, that the U.S. had already agreed to pass that data to Israel according to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries. Which is 100% true. But before one thinks of him as some sort of martyr, understand he got well paid to pass the documents along. The bottom line is he was not authorized to pass along the information and deserved to go to prison. However, one can argue that he has served long enough.
There are probably two reasons Pollard is still in prison: Caspar Weinberger and Jonathan Pollard.
Prior to sentencing, then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger delivered a 46-page classified memorandum to the sentencing judge. Since then, neither Pollard nor any of his cleared attorneys have ever been allowed to access the memorandum to challenge the memorandum, a clear violation of Pollard’s constitutional rights.
The day before sentencing, Weinberger delivered a four-page supplemental memorandum to the sentencing judge. In it, he falsely accused Pollard of treason, which by definition is passing along information to an enemy in time of war. Also in the supplemental memorandum, Weinberger advocated a life sentence in clear violation of Pollard’s plea agreement.
Weinberger’s motivation may very well have been his personal bias: He was afraid that people would think he was Jewish. Weinberger had a Jewish grandfather, but given his surname was always quick to stress to people that he was not Jewish, according to “Jewish Power,” a book on the relationship between American Jews and the U.S. government by J.J. Goldberg.
When Weinberger became secretary of defense, a position he held from 1981 to 1987, he visited Israel for the first time. At Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum, his guide, who was a prosecutor in the trial against Adolf Eichmann, told him, “If you were in Germany at that time, this would have happened to you, too.”
“Weinberger said in a loud voice, ‘I am not a Jew,'” Rothman said, adding, “His ambivalence on his Jewish identity had a huge impact on him.”
Even close aides agree that Weinberger’s apparent discomfort may have played a role in his occasional tilt against Israel in debates within the Reagan administration.
Pollard was given life in prison not by the suggestion of the prosecutor, but after the presiding judge read the Weinberger documents. No one else in the history of the United States has ever received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally, only Jonathan Pollard.
To put it in perspective, Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for passing hundreds of thousands of classified military documents to WikiLeaks. It is believed that some of Manning’s revelations led to deaths of American sources across the world. There has never been evidence that the secrets Pollard handed to Israel were ever made public or used against the United States in any manner.
Beyond Weinberger, Pollard may be his own worst enemy. The Washington Post once described him as smug, patronizing, and alternating between feeling guilty and being completely unrepentant — not exactly the behavior of someone who wants to get out of prison.
Will a deal to release Pollard happen? I would be very surprised if it did, but stranger deals have come out of the Middle East. Also keep in mind that Pollard has said he did not want to be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, but that won’t matter if a deal can be made. He is eligible for parole from his life sentence in 2015.