Israel Would Like Its Spy Back, Please

There are reports that the US is considering releasing Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. This extraordinary concession is being made … merely to keep the Israelis from ending the current “peace process”. That’s how comprehensively the Israeli government has the United States in its pocket. Crowley brings us up to speed:

He currently resides in a federal prison in Butner, N.C. Pollard is a Jewish-American who, while serving as a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, passed American secrets to the Israelis. In 1985, he was sentenced to life in prison—a sentence that many Israelis and some American Jews consider excessive, cruel and potentially tainted by anti-Semitism. Now the Obama administration is considering releasing Pollard from prison as an incentive to keep the Israelis at the peace table, according to reports from multiple U.S. and Israeli news outlets

Shane Harris provides more background on Pollard:

Jonathan_PollardThis isn’t the first time that Pollard’s release has been floated in the midst of U.S.-brokered Middle East peace talks. In 1998, President Bill Clinton was prepared to release Pollard during the summit at Wye River, Md., but the effort was scuttled when intelligence officials protested and then-Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet threatened to resign. That reveals the depths of U.S. spies’ animosity toward Pollard, whom many regard as one of the most harmful spies in recent history. Three decades after Pollard confessed to giving Israel a stack of documents that, by his own estimation, would have measured six-by-six feet and stood 10-feet high, intelligence veterans insist that Pollard did far more damage to U.S. national security than is generally known.

Pollard is a traitor. Releasing him as part of a deal to find some way forward in Israel-Palestine would be a low-point in America’s dealings with the Jewish state, and another sign of just how much contempt the Israeli government has for the United States. Koplow fumes:

[R]eleasing Pollard in the context of current negotiations is a terrible mistake. Pollard himself has nothing to do with an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. He is not being held by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, his actions were in no way related to the conflict, and his status should be completely unrelated to the talks. That the Israeli government would link his release to its own willingness to resolving a wholly separate issue is shameful.

If Israel does not think that it is in its own best interests to continue negotiating or if it genuinely believes that it has no reliable partner across the table, then it should end the negotiations irrespective of what the U.S. offers since to do otherwise would be to take a concession in bad faith. Conversely, if the Israeli government believes that negotiations stand a good chance of success and that a deal with the Palestinians would be in Israel’s best interests, then it is monstrously dumb to link the willingness to keep on talking to Pollard’s release. Pollard is a factor that has no impact at all on the substance of a deal. His remaining in prison or his walking out a free man will not make Israel any safer or any more trustful of the Palestinians, and so using him as a reason to either keep negotiating or cease negotiating makes absolutely no sense at all from a substantive perspective. Were I the U.S., I would call this bluff without blinking.

Furthermore, if the negotiations are going so poorly that Israel will only agree to keep them going if Pollard is let out, then the two sides stand very little chance of coming to an agreement. That being the case, why release Pollard for such an ephemeral concession?

Amen. The US should never be that weak – even when dealing with Israel. Goldblog also doubts that releasing Pollard would advance the peace process:

Pollard’s release would constitute a political triumph for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and it would create feelings of gratitude for Netanyahu among the right-wing ministers in his ruling coalition. But these feelings would dissipate entirely at the exact moment when Netanyahu returns to the business at hand: trading land to the Palestinians in exchange for peace. These feelings would also dissipate, though not quite to the same degree, the moment Netanyahu once again began releasing Palestinian prisoners to the custody of the Palestinian Authority.

The right-wing of the Netanyahu coalition, and the right-most members of the prime minister’s own Likud Party, would like very much to welcome Pollard at Ben-Gurion International Airport, but they will not trade land for him, not one inch. To think otherwise is foolish. The cause of Middle East peace will not be advanced by the release of a hapless spy.

Larison weighs in:

Letting Pollard go early (he’s up for parole late next year) might please some hawks, but it would be a bad decision and one that ought to invite scorn regardless of one’s foreign policy views. Pollard’s release shouldn’t be part of these negotiations, but if it is the U.S. ought to get much more in exchange for giving up something that Israeli governments have sought for decades. Unless the administration wants nothing more than to convey just how desperate it is to get even the smallest concession from Israel on settlements, the deal as reported seems to be a very bad one.

Josh Marshall also wants more for Pollard’s release:

Pollard should be a chit. As I said, he’s served almost all of his minimum sentence. And it’s entirely reasonable to free even the worst of spies to secure critical US interests. This is certainly one. But here we seem even to be considering offering this prize in exchange for inconsequential concessions which can easily be taken back once Pollard is in Israel.

Aaron David Miller gets the final word:

If Barack Obama wants to release Jonathan Pollard because he’s paid his dues, then let him do so on humanitarian grounds. But don’t introduce other matters into an already dysfunctional negotiation, try to justify the release in the name of a peace process that isn’t going anywhere, undermine the intelligence community in the process, and pretend to be pro-Israel by doing something that even the most pro-Israeli president in U.S. history, Bill Clinton, wouldn’t do. Releasing Pollard won’t save the peace process. But not releasing him will spare us all a boneheaded move and yet another tactic in search of a strategy.