The US reportedly refused an Israeli request to free imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Israel releasing Palestinian prisoners, ahead of new peace talks with the Palestinians.
Channel 2 News reported Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked for the American gesture as a way of garnering support from his right-wing Cabinet members for the resumption of talks, during a conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry last week.
The Prime Minister’s Office partially confirmed the report, saying Netanyahu brought up the issue of releasing Pollard at every meeting with senior US officials.
The release of the Jewish American intelligence analyst — who was convicted of spying on Israel’s behalf and sent to prison 28 years ago — has become a rallying call for many Israelis in recent years. Some 200,000 Israelis have signed a petition for Pollard’s release.
Pollard, a naval intelligence officer, was arrested in 1985 and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987 for passing on classified information to Israel. Since then he has been held in solitary confinement and is due for mandatory parole in November 2015.
In March, former US assistant secretary of defense Lawrence Korb joined the growing chorus of senior and former officials calling on US President Barack Obama to pardon Pollard.
After nearly three decades in prison, Pollard no longer poses a threat to the US or its military secrets, Korb said following a meeting with Netanyahu and Effie Lahav, a leading activist for Pollard’s release.
The Cabinet, on Sunday, will vote on the release of Palestinian prisoners ahead of a scheduled first round of talks between Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in Washington.
Israeli officials have indicated the prisoners will be freed in phases, beginning at 4-6 weeks into the negotiations, and continuing at 6-8 week intervals, depending on the progress of the talks. Under Israeli law, the prisoners’ names will be published 48 hours before their release to allow families of their victims to appeal the decision with the Supreme Court.
Israel has reportedly refused to release an additional 21 pre-Oslo prisoners, either because they are Israeli citizens or for other security reasons.
Kerry announced the resumption of peace talks, after a hiatus of almost three years, on Friday. “We have reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming negotiations,” he said.
While Israeli leaders had confirmed the talks would be taking place and have even boasted that Israel had not been required to cave in to Palestinian preconditions to do so, Palestinian officials said that the path to resumed negotiations had not yet been cleared, and that the imminent meetings in Washington were aimed only at seeking to finalize the terms for the new negotiations.