Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly embarking on a new push to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard from US prison, spurred on by reports Washington spied on Israeli leaders.
On Monday, Netanyahu met with Esther Pollard, wife of the Israeli-American spy, and “updated her on the non-stop efforts to release Jonathan,” according to a statement by his office.
The meeting came on the heels of calls by several Israeli politicians for Washington to consider freeing Pollard, after revelations over the weekend that the National Security Agency had spied on a number of Israeli leaders.
The White House on Monday said it had no intention to let the convicted spy go free.
An unnamed source in President Barack Obama’s office told Channel 10 that the president “stands behind the things he said before he visited Israel [in March]. Pollard committed a very serious crime, and [Obama] has no intention of releasing him.”
However, Netanyahu was said to be pushing again for Pollard’s release as part of the wider terms for Israel signing a framework agreement with the Palestinians that Secretary of State John Kerry is reportedly about to present to the two sides.
Channel 2 cited unnamed sources who suggested that Netanyahu will ask the US to exonerate Pollard after 28 years in prison in the context of Israeli concessions.
The report suggested Netanyahu could invoke the request to have Pollard freed as one of his terms for signing the framework agreement, as Washington has requested before the end of January; or in the context of Israel’s ongoing four-phased release of 104 Palestinian terrorists, the third phase of which is due to take place shortly; or in the context of a possible release of six Israeli-Arabs imprisoned by Israel who Jerusalem has until now refused to free as part of a deal with the Palestinians.
The Channel 2 report said Netanyahu would not raise Pollard’s case in the direct context of the new reports of US spying on Israel, but that the spying allegations may have impacted the timing of the prime minister’s new push on behalf of Pollard.
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, launching decades of activism for his release by Jewish groups, and, more recently, some high-profile US and Israeli officials.
Netanyahu opened the Sunday cabinet meeting with a promise that Israel would continue working for Pollard’s release.
“We don’t need a special incident to work for the release of Jonathan Pollard,” he said. “I have dealt with this [issue] with every US president [I have met], including President Obama, at all periods, including at this time. I hope the circumstances allow us to bring Jonathan home.”