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ISRAEL: Jonathan Pollard in exchange for settlement freeze extension?

September 21, 2010 |  9:59 pm

The clock is ticking away on the freeze. The 10-month moratorium on Jewish settlement construction expires Sept.  26, presenting the most immediate obstacle to the newly resumed directIsraeli-Palestinian talks, already teetering.  

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated repeatedly that the freeze will not be extended. Between his right-wing coalition demanding renewed construction and massive pressure to extend the freeze for the sake of the talks, something will have to give. But maybe the U.S. can give something too that will help Netanyahu sell a compromise.

That "something" is someone, Jonathan Pollard.

Jerusalem is said to be mulling an extension of the freeze in return for the release of Jonathan Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy. Pollard provided Israel with thousands of secret documents and has been serving a life sentence since 1987. 

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According to Israel's Army Radio station, a private citizen -- a veteran researcher of the conflict with extensive U.S. and Palestinian ties -- was approached by a confidant of the prime minister and asked to inquire discreetly in American administration circles as to the possibility of such a deal. The question had also been examined in polls, although not public ones, said Monday's Hebrew-language report, which quoted an unnamed Jerusalem source saying the idea was being discussed as "one of many." The first mention of the initiative came as an "observation" and then spread.

The U.S. administration is publicly ignoring the reported offer, says the Washington Post, and Israeli officials would not comment on the reports.

For the first decade after the Pollard affair, which embarrassed Israel and infuriated the U.S., Israel did not publicly acknowledge Pollard. This gradually changed, as Pollard had availed himself of Israel's Supreme Court over the years, petitioning for Israeli citizenship and official acknowledgment, both of which he eventually received.

Israeli efforts on Pollard's behalf were based on a humanitarian claim but often came in conjunction with developments in the peace process and related diplomacy. The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had made efforts around the time of the signing of the Olso interim agreements in 1995, as had Netanyahu around the 1998 Wye River talks, and then-Prime Minister and now Defense Minister Ehud Barak around Camp David talks in 2000. At least once, then-President Clinton had promised Israel Pollard's release but backed down after CIA Director George J. Tenet threatened to resign and other officials were adamant that he serve his sentence.

The last round of hope or hype came in March 2008; the quiet optimism eventually evaporated.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Top: Freeze countdown "hourglass campaign." Credit: Website of Israeli lawmaker Danny Danon

Bottom: Jonathan Pollard. Credit: U.S. Navy via Wikimedia Commons

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