In a last-ditch effort to save the struggling Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, it was announced through Israeli media Tuesday that former United States Navy intelligence analyst and convicted spy Jonathan Pollard could be released in upcoming weeks as an incentive to extend the negotiations into 2015, according to CNN. Though many who oppose Pollard’s release cite the internal strife it could potentially cause within the American intelligence community, the real issue that must be addressed is that Pollard’s release would ultimately fail to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations — the only reason his release is being proposed in the first place.
Thirty years ago, Pollard, a former civilian analyst within the U.S. navy intelligence community, was sentenced to life in prison after he plead guilty to violating the Espionage Act. Convinced that the United States was keeping important information from one of its strongest allies, Pollard passed on top-secret documents to Israel in return for tens of thousands of dollars. Though the Israeli government originally denied any connection to Pollard, his release has since become the focus of many Israeli politicians. Those in support of Pollard say that his sentence was unusually harsh and that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be willing to grant more concessions, such as releasing Palestinian prisoners and halting the ever-expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank, if Pollard were freed.
But it won’t. Though Pollard’s release would be a temporary political victory for Netanyahu and members of his coalition, it would do nothing to change the political realities that have made Israeli-Palestinian negotiations so trying. Even if Pollard was returned tomorrow, the same politicians thrilled by his release would remain just as uncompromising in their stance toward settlement expansion, borders and the release of Palestinian prisoners as they were before Pollard’s release.
This isn’t the first time that Pollard has been proposed as a gesture of goodwill as a means of reviving Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In 1998, the same suggestion was made when then-President Bill Clinton weighed with the idea of releasing Pollard at a time when peace negotiations were at a similar standstill. In response, then-CIA Director George Tenet threatened to quit his post. In the end, President Clinton chose not to release Pollard — just as President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should now.
Negotiations require compromise, but Pollard’s release makes no promise of concessions on the issues that have made this seemingly impossible conflict what it is today. As Jeffery Goldberg so aptly put it in an editorial for Bloomberg View, “The right-wing of the Netanyahu coalition, and the right-most members of the prime minister’s own Likud Party, would like very much welcome Pollard at Ben Gurion International Airport, but they will not trade land for him, not one inch.”
The issues facing Sec. Kerry and his negotiating team are not easy. From Israeli hesitation to release Palestinian prisoners with blood on their hands to Palestinian frustration with continuous settlement construction, it is understandable that they would try to grasp at straws in an attempt to avoid a collapse in negotiations set to expire on April 29. But if releasing Pollard is what they consider their best bet at keeping both parties at the negotiation table, perhaps it’s time they got a sharper negotiating team.
Yasmeen Serhan is a sophomore majoring in international relations. She is also the Editorial Director of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Fridays.