from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Should Pollard Be Released?

April 01, 2014

Blog Post

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Israel

Palestinian Territories

United States

Diplomacy and International Institutions

 I’m one of the many people, including former officials like George Shultz, who think Jonathan Pollard should be released. Given the nature of his crime, 30 years is enough or more than enough.

Yet I’m not enthusiastic about the linkage to the “peace process,” for several reasons.

First, if as I believe he ought to be released now, that decision should be made on grounds of justice and humanitarian treatment and not dependent on extraneous factors.

Second, isn’t it a bit odd—or repellent—to say that we will release an Israeli spy if Israel will release some murderers?  I do not believe we should be pressuring Israel to release convicted terrorists, because we don’t do that ourselves. What’s the moral basis, anyway, for pressuring Israel to release convicted killers?

Third, this sets a very bad precedent. We’ve released spies over the years when their terms were legally up, or to exchange for people we badly wanted released from foreign prisons—usually Americans jailed for spying. Now we are going to release someone who spied on America in order to free foreign terrorists? The most you can say for this move is that we would achieve a political goal, which in this case is to keep the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks going. But linking such releases to political goals is a dangerous precedent. Where does it stop? What are the limiting principles?

Fourth, what are we getting for this release of a spy? We are keeping PLO Chairman and Palestinian President Abbas at the negotiating table for a while, maybe a year. Nice. What happens next year? This situation exists only because of Secretary Kerry’s inexplicable confidence in his own ability to get the “peace process” moving. He plunged in, saying the goal was a peace treaty. That goal was unreachable, so he climbed down to the goal of a “framework agreement.” That was unreachable, so he climbed down to just keeping Abbas at the table. That was unreachable without more Israeli prisoner releases, so now Kerry wants to trade Pollard for those releases. What will he want next year when Abbas threatens to leave the table again?

Pollard’s release is right or it is wrong, and in my view it is right. If he ought not to be released the President should not commute his sentence to get foreign terrorists out of prison and rescue (briefly, anyway) Kerry’s bacon. If he ought to be released, do it and don’t link it these political considerations.

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