To free or not to free
Hebrew media review

To free or not to free

Will Pollard be released? What about Palestinian prisoners? The papers have a lot of questions, but few answers

Will Pollard be a free man? This illustrative photo shows Israelis protesting in March 2013 for the release of Pollard (photo credit: FLASH90)
Will Pollard be a free man? This illustrative photo shows Israelis protesting in March 2013 for the release of Pollard (photo credit: FLASH90)

The Israeli-Palestinian talks have hit their most significant roadblock so far, but if you read the Israeli press, you might be forgiven for not realizing it. Two of the three major dailies focus only on one possible prisoner being freed in a last-ditch effort to save peace talks: Jonathan Pollard.

Yedioth Ahronoth gives nine pages of coverage to Pollard and the possible deal that would free him. “Long road home” is how the paper labels a reported US proposal, according to which Pollard would be released to Israel by the US, Israel would release 400 Palestinian prisoners, and the Palestinians would continue peace talks for another year.

But the deal might not get a green light from America where, Yedioth reports, the possibility of Pollard’s release has created some rare bipartisanship in Washington with politicians from both sides of the aisle opposing the move. Senator Diane Feinstein, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, “What Pollard did was a huge betrayal,” and releasing him to continue negotiations and not as part of a deal doesn’t make sense.

Yedioth also includes an op-ed by former Israeli consul in New York Alon Pinkas who writes that with this deal everyone loses. He writes that the release of Pollard would have been more significant if it occurred in 1998 when Netanyahu first started pressuring for it, rather than now when the prisoner is soon eligible for parole. Pinkas describes the situation as follows: “Pollard is freed, Palestinian murderers are freed from jail, and on the surface ‘the political track’ continues, although no one ever really believed in it.”

Over in Israel Hayom, where they call the deal “Operation Jonathan” (a reference to Operation Entebbe), not everyone is in favor. Mati Tuchfeld writes that the idea of releasing prisoners with blood on their hands for Pollard isn’t a deal, “it’s blackmail.” But the idea of Pollard getting off a plane to celebrate the Passover Seder in Israel might be the PR sugar that makes the medicine go down for Netanyahu.

Also on the subject, the paper quotes Admiral Thomas Brooks from an interview he gave to Foreign Policy. Brooks, who was head of Naval Intelligence when Pollard was passing secrets to Israel, said Pollard’s actions “have only been exceeded by Snowden.” He went on to say, “Contrary to what he would want us to believe, a lot of what he took was not related to Arab countries or Israel’s security.” Instead Brooks claims a lot of what Pollard passed to Israel was about how America gathered intelligence, particularly against the Soviet Union. While he says he doesn’t care what happens to Pollard, he’s against granting him a pardon as he “has no remorse or guilt.”

Haaretz is the only paper not to go gaga over Pollard, instead focusing on the larger story: the stalled peace talks. The front-page headline focuses on Kerry canceling his visit to the region a day after both the Israelis and Palestinians did things to anger the US. Israel issued 708 repeat tenders for housing beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood, while the Palestinians signed an application to join 15 international agencies. The paper quotes anonymous Israeli officials who think Abbas’s move is only designed to exert some last-minute pressure on Israel.

Columnist Amos Harel writes that if this is so, it makes sense. Abbas needs concrete items to prove his worth, like prisoners being released. Harel writes that Abbas has already gotten almost 500 prisoners freed, which is half of the total Hamas freed with the Shalit deal, only without engaging in a military conflict with Israel.

Not making the grade

There’s some bad news for Israel’s school system, mainly that there are huge gaps in education based on socioeconomic and cultural conditions. Haaretz writes that the Education Ministry released a report on Tuesday that highlighted a huge gap between Jewish and Arab students’ performance on international standardized tests. Israel placed 34th overall (out of 43 developed countries) for score, but first for grade distribution. The reports states that there is a gap of 133 points in average grades for those studying in Hebrew-speaking schools compared to students in Arabic-speaking schools.

Yedioth also writes about education matters, but from the students’ point of view. The paper reports that students are complaining about this year’s matriculation exam schedule. Last year there were at least seven days (and up to 21 days) between final exams, but this year there are only a handful of days between exams. Students claim that this puts undue pressure on them and doesn’t give them enough time to study. A student leader from a Tel Aviv high school sent a letter to the Education Ministry requesting that the schedule be changed. The Education Ministry responded to the students’ complaints with a very parent-like answer, “we’ll look into it.”

Finally, Israel Hayom reports that Israel’s zigzag kid, Amir Peretz, may want to return to the Labor Party. Peretz, who ditched Labor before last year’s elections for Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party, is apparently going to give the Passover toast at a Labor Party function. The paper quotes the unnamed source who calls the toast “a dress rehearsal” for Peretz’s return to Labor. But, of course, Peretz’s people deny this and instead say that he is ”involved in the great society that crosses party lines.”

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