Reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu is considering conditioning the release of Jonathan Pollard on advancement of the American-brokered peace process with the Palestinians, which surfaced on Monday, remained in the air on Tuesday.
There has been some unofficial speculation in the Israeli media that Pollard’s release could be the condition for Israel’s signature on an interim agreement, or may be demanded as a confidence-building gesture parallel to or preceding a further release of Arab prisoners.
Netanyahu’s office has neither confirmed nor denied it. Israeli officials reportedly downplayed a denial of the story by a White House spokesman, noting that he went unnamed, and that Obama himself is out of Washington on vacation.
Prodded by an outburst of indignation and anger from within his own government over alleged American spying on Israel while continuing to imprison Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard, Netanyahu on Monday took a somewhat stronger line on the spying issue than he had the day before, and reaffirmed his pledge to make every effort on Pollard’s behalf.
“With regard to things published in the past few days, I have asked for an examination of the matter,” Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks referring to the espionage charges.
Documents leaked by Edward Snowden implicated the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ in a 2009 targeting of email communications by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
“In the close ties between Israel and the United States, there are things that must not be done and that are not acceptable to us,” Netanyahu told a meeting of the Likud party. However, his comments stopped short of saying whether Israel intended to seek clarification from Washington.
Netanyahu also informed Likud that he met Monday with Pollard’s wife Esther, a meeting that lasted for 45 minutes.
“I met now with Esther Pollard and updated her on the nonstop efforts to win Jonathan’s release. He should have been released long ago. I think this is understood by everyone here, and I believe it is also understood by an increasingly larger crowd in the United States,” Netanyahu said.
On Sunday, after several high-ranking Israeli officials called again for Pollard’s immediate release, Netanyahu said he did not need any “special occasion” to discuss the case with Washington.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. on Tuesday, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations called on Obama to commute Pollard’s sentence during the American end-of-year holiday season.
The American Jewish umbrella group, which represents 50 national Jewish organizations, wrote President Obama that at 28 years, Pollard has served longer than any person convicted of a similar offense, spying for an ally of the U.S.
“We hope that in this holiday season, as we approach the new year with hope and expectation, this request will be considered favorably,” chairman Robert Sugarman and executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein wrote. “We hope that Mr. and Mrs. Pollard will be allowed to rebuild their lives after him having served more than 10,000 days in prison.”
Another voice raised on behalf of Pollard this week was that of the journalist Jonathan Tobin in Commentary. “It is difficult to view his continued incarceration as justified,” Tobin wrote. “While the United States, like any other country, has every right to capture and prosecute spies, Pollard’s sentence was disproportionate. No one who has ever spied for a U.S. ally has ever received a sentence of this kind. Indeed, such spies are usually quickly ushered out of the country rather than prosecuted in order to avoid unpleasantness.
“As a U.S. citizen, Pollard had to be punished, but the determination of the U.S. intelligence establishment to see that he dies in jail seems to be based more in a desire to let him serve as a warning to Israel than anything else,” Tobin said.