Two former US ambassadors to Israel called Tuesday for the release of American-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, who has been incarcerated in a US prison for over 28 years.
In an interview with Israeli news site Walla, the two diplomats, Samuel W. Lewis and Thomas R. Pickering, emphasized that although they had been opposed to freeing Pollard in the past, they now believed that such a move was warranted.
Both former ambassadors served in Israel in 1985, the year of Pollard’s arrest.
Pickering, who was on duty in Israel at the time of Pollard’s arrest, said he would support Pollard’s release if it would help to advance the US-mediated Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and would serve as a goodwill gesture toward Israel’s leadership.
“For years I have resisted Pollard’s release,” Pickering was quoted as saying in the Hebrew-language report. “[B]ut if you were to tell me that a decision on the release would help promote [US Secretary of State John] Kerry’s framework agreement, I would support it.”
Pickering added that he believed that the spy’s release would help advance a framework agreement. However, he also said that he still considers Pollard a traitor to the US.
“[Pollard] committed bad and dangerous actions, and I really do not understand Israel’s protest over his imprisonment, but it’s important to state the truth: Achieving a framework agreement for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more important than the continued incarceration of Jonathan Pollard,” Pickering said, according to Walla.
On the other hand, Lewis, who left the Jewish state only three months prior to the affair, said he believed there in no connection between freeing Pollard and the peace process.
“Anyone who tries to link the two issues is making a mistake,” he said.
The former statesman went on to assert that Pollard had been jailed for long enough, despite his “traitorous” actions.
“From the American military’s perspective, Pollard is a traitor who committed serious acts,” Lewis said.
“The question is whether in the current situation, and after 28 years in jail, he is still a security risk.”
Efforts to free Pollard have ramped up over the past several weeks amid reports that the US may have offered him as a bargaining chip in peace talks with Palestinians, with more pressure mounting from Israeli officials in the wake of reports that US intelligence agencies have been spying on the country’s leaders.
Pollard was convicted in 1987 on charges of passing classified information to Israel while he worked as an intelligence analyst for the US Navy. He was given a life sentence for the crime, sparking decades of activism for his release by Jewish groups, and, more recently, some high-profile US and Israeli officials.
Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.