Hoping to salvage his failing Mideast peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, President Barack Obama signaled his willingness to use 59-year-old incarcerated Jewish U.S. spy Jonathan Pollard as a bargaining chip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a vested interest in getting Pollard out of federal prison in North Carolina since his conviction for a single count of espionage March 4, 1987. Federal Judge Aubrey Robinson Jr. threw the book at Pollard giving him a life sentence for a crime usually carrying 10 years. Netanyahu visited Pollard at the Butner Federal Corrections Complex in North Carolina in 2002, viewing Pollard as victim of harsh U.S. sentencing laws prior to Nov. 1, 1987. Pollard is eligible for parole Nov. 21, 2015, releasing him early with Netanyahu promising to continue Mideast Peacemaking beyond the April 29 deadline.
Getting Netanyahu to agree to continuing Mideast peace talks would be a shot in the arm for Obama, whose foreign policy failures in Syria and the Ukraine haven’t helped his sinking approval ratings. With only a year-and-half left on Pollard’s sentence, it’s the perfect bargaining chip, though Obama’s GOP critics would still complain. Obama’s critics want Pollard released without strings attached, certainly not Netanyahu’s commitment to Mideast peacemaking. White House officials miscalculated the complexity of peacemaking where Palestinians refuse to make the compromises necessary to get an independent state. Already divided between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, the lion’s share of Palestinians want to continue the war of “resistance” to topple Israel. U.S. officials know that Hamas openly calls for Israel’s destruction.
Netanyahu’s recent demand that Palestinians, for any signed peace deal, must recognize Israel as a Jewish homeland. Even the more even keeled 79-year-old leader of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish homeland. All Palestinians want the “right of return” to what they call their Palestinian homeland in Israeli’s current borders. When Palestinians fled Jerusalem and surrounding areas during the 1948 war that established the state of Israel, they all expected—as they were promised by Arab leaders—to return once Israel was “wiped off the map.” Several wars—and defeats—later, their hopes of returning were dashed. Now, in the latest incarnation of Mideast peacemaking, Palestinians make the same old demands, expecting Israel to return to the pre-1967 borders, something impossible after Sept. 11 and current Mideast wars.
Getting Netanyahu’s assurance of continuing Mideast peacemaking in exchange for Pollard’s release could backfire on the Obama administration. Pollard’s release was long overdue in the first place, slated for next year. “He’s a person who is convicted of espionage and is serving his sentence. I don’t have any updates on the situation,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the White House. Judge Robinson threw the book at Pollard at the urging of Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger, citing damage to U.S. national security. While there was once outrage at Pollard’s acts, most conservatives have come to view his acts as consistent with his devotion to Israel, a staunch U.S. ally. Since Sept. 11, the U.S. has relied heavily on Israel in the war on terror. Most conservatives agree with Pollard’s early release and today’s sentencing would have been much lighter.
Former Secretary of States Henry Kissinger [Nixon] and George Schultz [Reagan], ranking member of the Armed Services Committee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former CIA Director James Woolsey all called for Pollard’s release. Cutting a deal with Netanyahu for Pollard’s release to continue Mideast peacemaking makes sense. “He’s been serving his time,” said Obama, not saying what he’d do. “I have no plans for releasing Jonathan Pollard immediately . . . “ Obama told reports, keeping his options open. When you consider the failures of White House peacemaking, letting Pollard go might be just what the doctor ordered. Anything that buys the White House more time would be a good thing. In prison now nearly 27 years, releasing Pollard offers Obama a perfect way out to keep Mideast peacemaking alive. Obama might even score some points with his GOP critics.
Whether Obama releases Pollard a year-or-so early or not, his problems with Mideast peacemaking stands on its own. Since Sept. 11, U.S.-brokered peacemaking could no longer back Palestinian terrorists simply because they professed noble motives. Obama knows that his GOP critics won’t give Palestinians concessions that compromise U.S. security in Israel. Gone are the days of former President Jimmy Carter operating under obsolete U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, promising peace for Israel’s return to the pre-1967 War borders. Compromising Israeli national security for Mideat peace is no longer possible. Whether or not Palestinians insist on returning to the pre-1967 borders, Israeli’s can only give back so much land before sacrificing U.S. interests. Whoever leads the Palestinian Authority, the days for groundbreaking compromise have long since passed.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.