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Published on: April 1, 2014
Releasing Pollard
Don’t Do It, Mr. Secretary

John Kerry’s laudable attempts at restarting the Mideast peace process appear to be in trouble. Releasing Jonathan Pollard in order to keep them limping along would be a mistake.

Reporting from Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest foray into Israeli-Palestinian peace making indicates that the United States may release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard as a “sweetener” for Israel to continue the process beyond Kerry’s April deadline.  If this is the case, it would be a decision driven by American diplomatic desperation—a decision very far removed from Kerry’s brilliantly-crafted diplomacy thus far.  Perhaps this “hail Mary” maneuver is the only thing left before the talks collapse, or perhaps it is driven by domestic political calculations related to midterm elections.  Whatever the real motivations, the Secretary of State should just say ‘no’.

Proponents of releasing Pollard marshal arguments that on the surface appear appealing. He has served 29 years thus far of a life sentence—more than others convicted of seemingly-similar offenses. He is eligible for parole in 2015, so, the argument goes, why not get some diplomatic “value”—however small—for him now?

Furthermore, it is argued that Pollard is highly unlikely to have any information that would put American interests at risk. Pollard’s sentence was harsh because then-Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger reportedly wrote a detailed memo to the judge in the trial detailing the dangers of allowing Pollard to be set free early given what he knew. But that was in the mid-1980’s; such information today would probably be worthless.

Some also argue that Pollard is ill, and thus release should be considered on humanitarian grounds. Others who are less favorably-disposed to him argue that he should be released because only when he is out of prison will Pollard reveal himself as the venal, small-minded, money-hungry, treasonous person who sold out his country.

The arguments against releasing Pollard now, or ever, are at least as compelling.  First, Israelis are likely to fête him as a returning hero, which will be terribly annoying to Americans and will exacerbate a rift that is already widening between American and Israeli leaders. Two recent examples of the divide: Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s unacceptable comments about America, and the fact that Israel did not vote in the United Nations in favor of an American resolution condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

More substantively, Pollard did indeed sell out his country. Although he claimed he provided intelligence to Israel that was being withheld by the United States, the fact is he provided such information in return for money. And, according to reports at the time, he also sold American secrets to other countries. According to the reports of Weinberger’s intervention in the sentencing portion of Pollard’s trial, the information provided actually put American agents in the field in jeopardy and may have cost some their lives.

Less well-known is the hurt that Pollard inflicted on loyal American Jews working in public service and in security-sensitive positions in the private sector. Some Jews were immediately taken off of sensitive projects or activities involving Israel, and for many, Pollard’s arrest cast a pall of suspicion over them. Even today, some American Jews with relatives in Israel or who have spent time there as students or tourists do not receive security clearances for which they otherwise would be eligible.

But most to the point in the current round of diplomacy, it is wrongheaded for the United States to be asked to pay any price, let alone this price, for the peace process to continue. Israel agreed to release Palestinian prisoners as part of an understanding last summer, and thus Israel should be expected to live up to those commitments without further sweeteners and concessions. Naturally, Palestinians should be expected to fulfill their part of the understandings as well. If these commitments are fulfilled, and if Kerry is still unable to persuade the two sides to continue engaging until the terms of reference for serious negotiations can be arranged, then so be it—even the release of a convicted spy will not induce Israel to yield territory or allow a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, nor will it induce Palestinians to yield on their demand for a ‘right of return’ of refugees.

A serious peace process is all about agency, that is, decisions that can and must be made by the leaders of Israel and Palestine.  The United States can only do so much to assist, and John Kerry has gone way beyond the call of duty in trying to help. He should not be tempted to demean American diplomacy and tarnish his hard work by throwing a convicted spy into a half-baked deal only to buy time for a peace process that appears to be floundering anyway.

Daniel Kurtzer is the S. Daniel Abraham Professor of Middle East Policy Studies at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. During a 29-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Israel and to Egypt.
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  • dubiyarden

    Umm . . .

    First, Kurtzer has no idea if the crimes that Weinberger ascribed to Pollard are accurate. A notorious Russian double agent in the FBI named Robert Phillip Hannsen was arrested in 2001 for providing highly classified security information to the Soviet Union and to Russia. Hannsen may have been the real source of the damage Weinberger attributed to Pollard.

    Second, Kurtzer has no idea whether the Palestinians have lived up to their obligations. In one way they have clearly and publicly not fulfilled the understandings: they have been speaking to reporters since the beginning about what is going on in the talks pace the understandings.

    Third, he predicts without any evidence that Pollard will be feted as a hero in Israel. In fact, the Palestinians have been feting as heroes, the terrorist murderers that Israel has released, showering them with stipends and gifts – Kurtzer doesn’t seem to have any sympathy for the offended Israelis and what these actions imply for a so-called peace process.

    Methinks that it is former shtadlan Kurtzer who is “hurt that Pollard inflicted on loyal American Jews working in public service and in security-sensitive positions” and therefore in his high dungeon wants to inflict additional harm to someone who has done the time.

    • Jim__L

      So we ignore Kurtzer’s speculations (which were at least somewhat substantiated by Pollard’s conviction in court) and instead pay attention to the unsubstantiated speculations of this post?

      Pollard hasn’t “done the time”… he has a life sentence, for espionage. He has “done the time” when he leaves prison feet-first.

      • Andrew Allison

        Jim, whether or not Pollard will do his time is, I submit, irrelevant to the larger question of whether his release would contribute (which I very much doubt) to an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. The simple fact, which Swift Boat Kerry and his master seem unable to grasp is that the only outcome acceptable to the “Palistinians” (a post-WW-I creation) is the destruction of Israel. I should add that I am a former Anglican who has no dog other than reason in this fight.

  • Andrew Allison

    Given the wreckage in the mid-East, I stopped reading at, “. . .a decision very far removed from Kerry’s brilliantly-crafted diplomacy thus far.”

  • wigwag

    It looks like Daniel Kurtzer is chugging Slim Fast again.
    How do we know?
    Well, the inanity of his post can only be explained if Kurtzer is overdosing on the strange concoction invented by the huckster who endowed Kurtzer’s chair at Princeton, S. Danny Abraham. Kurtzer’s patron proved that a sucker is born every minute; Abraham made a billion dollars peddling his snake oil of a weight loss product to obese people desperate to lose a few pounds. True to the modus operandi of his patron, Kurtzer seems to think American Interest readers are Rubes who will fall for his version of snake oil.
    Does Kurtzer really think Pollard’s release will impact the relationship between American and Israeli leaders? Could Netanyahu’s relationship with Obama be an worse? Is Dan Shapiro going to stop talking to his counterparts if Pollard is released? Will Secretary of Defense Hagel go back to barking incoherent anti-Israel cat calls if Pollard is released? Whatever the merits of releasing Pollard may be, the idea that his release should be aborted because a few clueless and unnamed American diplomats might be irritated is too dimwitted to merit much discussion. As to Yaalon’s comments, as undiplomatic as the may have been, the Israeli Defense Minister was merely articulating what half the world thinks including several regular writers at this blog and more than half of the United States Congress. Kurtzer and his fastidious ilk can wallow in their obsessions with diplomatic niceties if they want to; most Americans appreciate plain talking. That’s what Yaalon was doing and many of us think he should be congratulated for it.

    • Andrew Allison

      Other than that I thought he was imbibing something rather more mind-altering than Slim-Fast, I must agree.

    • Breif2

      Given your occasional lack of tact*, I am surprised you are leaving it
      to me to wonder whether Kurtzer’s motivation might be found in his
      phrase: “Less well-known is the hurt that Pollard inflicted on loyal
      American Jews working in public service” …

      * or if you prefer: “uncompromising forthrightness”. :-)

  • Pete

    “If this is the case, it would be a decision driven by American diplomatic desperation—a decision very far removed from Kerry’s brilliantly-crafted diplomacy thus far.”

    Kerry’s brilliantly-crafted diplomacy! Come on, Kurtzer. How much money did that gigolo’s wife pay you to write such rubbish?

    • Andrew Allison

      Wish I could vote it up twice!

    • Breif2

      Not very diplomatic of you, but indeed, “Come on!” The relevant portion of this diplomacy consisted of the US strong-arming Israel into releasing over 100 Palestinian Arab murderers as a bribe to the Palestinian Authority to agree to talk with the Joooos. The prisoners we are currently pressuring them to release are Israeli Arabs. So now when people such as Kurtzer (and some commenters here) make the in itself reasonable argument that the US shouldn’t release American prisoners from jail due to outside pressure, this looks like bullying hypocrisy. What brilliantly-crafted diplomacy!

  • John Stephens

    Let’s get real here. Captured spies are diplomatic tokens, nothing more. Sooner or later Jonathan Pollard will be cashed in. The only question is whether we do it now or wait for a better deal later, at the risk of wasting him by allowing him to die in prison.

    • PKCasimir

      Jonathan Pollard is not a “captured spy.” Nathan Hale was a captured spy. Jonathan Pollard is an American citizen who spied for a foreign nation,; in my eyes, a traitor. May his bones rot in hell.

  • JossefPerl

    Mr. Kurtzer, you state as your first argument against releasing Pollard that “Israelis are likely to fête him as a returning hero, which will
    be terribly annoying to Americans and will exacerbate a rift that is
    already widening between American and Israeli leaders.” This is a shameful argument for ignoring justice, particularly in view of the fact that Israel had to agree (in response to US pressure) to release 104 Palestinian terrorists (many with blood on their hands from murdering Israeli women and children), all of whom were not only welcomed as heroes by the Palestinians, but received large sums of money from the PA (using US and EU donations) for the time they spent in jail. To date, over 1000 Palestinian terrorists received early release from Israeli jails and received hero welcome, large sums of money (from US and EU donations) and streets and squares were named after them; yet this never caused anti-Israel voices in the US media like you to protest pressure on Israel to release them. You are here showing the ultimate definition of anti-Israel double standard. Your second argument against Pollard release reflects just as much anti Israel double standard as the first, i.e., that Israeli leaders (such as Ya’alon) made what you called “unacceptable comments about America.” US officials (particularly form the Administrations but also from Congress) routinely preface their criticism of Israel with the statement that true friends should have the obligation to be honest and straight forward with each other, including criticism when due; yet for some reason, while criticism from every other US ally (including the Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, NATO allies, Japan, Korea) is acceptable, criticism from Israel is deemed “unacceptable” by the US Administration, the State Department and anti-Israel voices in the US media like you. It is sad to hear people base their opposition to the release of Pollard after 30 years, entirely on political arguments and ignore the most fundamental argument, – justice. The US treatment of Pollard has long crossed the line from justice to vengeance.

  • http://allrightforum.blogspot.com/ The American Notice

    Merely a ‘mistake’? How about an outrageously craven pandering to corrupt and brazenly arrogant Jewish power?

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