The hopes of the Jewish community around the world for the release of Jonathan Pollard were lifted to an unprecedented level early on Tuesday, as further details emerged of a possible agreement that could have him home by Pesach.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that while no decision has been made by U.S. President Barack Obama on whether to release Pollard, “there are obviously a lot of things happening in that arena.”
A spokesman for Pollard’s wife, Esther, declined comment.
However, even as the strongest indications so far of the U.S. government seriously considering Pollard’s release were filling the media, there were other, worrying signs, that no deal at all will be completed, and the talks will break up.
As Secretary of State John Kerry left Israel Tuesday morning meeting Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for the second time in less than 12 hours, an agreement reportedly being negotiated would include the release of Pollard before Pesach begins as a gesture to Israel, intended to soften opposition to other requests being made of Israel by the U.S.
The deal being discussed calls for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to be extended into 2015, during which time the Palestinians will refrain from seeking international recognition.
Under the proposed deal, Israel will go ahead with the fourth round of releasing Palestinians convicted of terror acts before the 1993 Oslo Accords, with an unspecified number of Israeli-Arabs to be included. Israel will also set free an additional 400 Palestinian prisoners during the continuing negotiation period. These will be picked by Israel, will include many minors and women, and will not include those with “blood on their hands.”
Israel will “exercise restraint” in publishing tenders for new homes in Yehudah and Shomron, though it can continue with building projects in Jewish neighborhoods in Yerushalayim beyond the Green Line.
Analysts noted that the contentious demand for the release of prisoners predated the request for Pollard as a gesture; and it would continue even if Pollard were dropped from the equation.
Meanwhile, in Butner, North Carolina, where Pollard is imprisoned, a member of the U.S. Parole Commission said that Pollard waived a planned parole hearing scheduled for Tuesday.
Sources with knowledge of the situation said the Pollard had previously decided to postpone the parole meeting for reasons unrelated to the current talks.
Pollard requested the parole hearing some time ago, and filed a suit seeking access to classified information in his sentencing file that the government intends to use against him in the hearing.
With that litigation still pending, and his being in failing health — he was hospitalized and underwent a surgical procedure only three weeks ago — Pollard asked for the hearing to be pushed off.
In a surprise move that could derail the peace efforts, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday resumed a campaign for further U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state, despite a previous promise to suspend such efforts during nine months of negotiations with Israel.
Shortly after Abbas’ announcement, Secretary of State John Kerry canceled plans to return to the Middle East on Wednesday, but also said it’s “completely premature” to write off the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks he restarted in late July.
“We are continuing, even now … to be engaged with both parties,” Kerry told a news conference in Brussels, where he was attending a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. “We urge both sides to show restraint while we work with them.”
According to the Palestinian news agency Maan, Israel rejected Abbas’ request that it free arch-terrorist Marwan Barghouti and Yasser Arafat’s former aide Fuad Al-Shubkhi.
The report claimed that Palestinian negotiators told Kerry that they would agree to extend the talks only if Israel frees another 1,000 prisoners.
Dennis Ross, who served as special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton, voiced his opinion in Time magazine on Tuesday that Pollard’s release would be justified in the context of furthering peace.
“It surely makes little sense to say that someone who has spent nearly 30 years in jail has not paid a severe price,” said Ross, who recalled that he initially opposed Pollard’s release.
”At a time when the Middle East is characterized by upheaval and U.S. foreign policy needs to demonstrate effectiveness, we can ill afford a collapse of the current efforts to negotiate between Israelis and Palestinians.
“If the release is part of a package of steps that not only manages this process but can give it a necessary boost — and also affect the climate between Israelis and Palestinians — then President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry certainly seem justified in acting on it,” Ross wrote.
(With reporting by AP)