With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry back in Israel to try and jumpstart peace negotiations by settling a dispute over further Palestinian prisoner releases, another prisoner’s name has come up as well: Jonathan Pollard. The New York Times reports that Israel and the United States are discussing the possibility of releasing Pollard, the former naval intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel who has been imprisoned in the United States for nearly three decades.
An American official, who asked not to be identified because the official was discussing private deliberations, said no decisions about Mr. Pollard’s release had been made. Officials familar with the negotiations said his possible release was one element in discussions about a broader arrangement that had not yet been reached and that President Obama would need to approve.
In January, Tablet called for Pollard’s release in an editorial, pointing out that under current U.S. law, the maximum sentence for crimes of espionage is 10 years. Pollard has been in jail longer than any convicted spy in U.S. history, and is also the only person in U.S. history to receive a life sentence for the crime of spying in a case involving a friendly country.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard Pollard’s name thrown out in the ongoing peace talks, however, so it’s not clear how much weight we should be giving this latest report. In December 2013, an ultimately unconfirmed letter indicated that Kerry was mulling the release of Pollard in exchange for the Israeli completion of the Palestinian prisoner release. Since we’re now back at the same impasse in the talks—a standoff over the release of Palestinian prisoners—it’s not a huge surprise to see Pollard’s name back in the mix. Still, it’s a better sign than any that substantial progress is potentially being made.
“Pollard’s plight is a cause célèbre, especially among those on the Israeli right,” the Scroll reported in December. “Were Pollard to be delivered, flexibility on the right might also arrive, be in the form a settlement freeze or even more openness toward other concessions in the peace process.”
It’s too early to tell whether these reported discussions will lead to action on Pollard’s behalf, though. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told the Times: “Jonathan Pollard was convicted of espionage and is serving his sentence. I do not have any update for you on his status.”