Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has asked the US to release Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard as part of a series of gestures made to Israel in an effort to restart peace talks with the Palestinians, sources with knowledge of the talks told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend.

Sunday is the 25th anniversary of Pollard’s arrest at the gates of the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He is serving a life sentence in prison in Butner, North Carolina, for passing classified information to an ally, a charge that normally carries a sentence of no more than 10 years.

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When Army Radio first reported last month that Pollard’s name had been raised in talks with senior American officials about restarting the settlement freeze, Israeli officials denied that his fate was on the bargaining table. But sources confirmed that Netanyahu and American officials had discussed whether Pollard’s release could persuade Israeli ministers to accept another moratorium.

The sources said American officials had sought to determine whether Pollard’s release could result in Netanyahu agreeing to renew the freeze, and if so, by how much. The sources said such discussions had occurred recently, but they did not know whether Pollard’s fate had been raised in a seven-and-a-half-hour meeting between Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on November 11, in which the prime minister agreed to seek approval in the security cabinet for a three-month freeze in return for a series of gestures that reportedly do not include releasing Pollard.

The Post quoted sources last month who said that “no minister in Netanyahu’s government would oppose a two-month extension of the settlement freeze in return for Pollard’s freedom.”

Netanyahu faced criticism forrefusing to take along a letter from 109 MKs asking US President Barack Obama to grant Pollard clemency when he met with Vice President Joe Biden in New Orleans on November 8. But the source said Netanyahu had been active behind the scenes recently in seeking Pollard’s release.

Justice For Jonathan Pollard and the Committee to Bring Jonathan Pollard Home have unequivocally called for his release, “as a matter of simple justice, not as part of any deal that would weaken Israel or endanger other Jews in any way.”

Nevertheless, the organizations called it shocking that Israel would even consider making a major gesture to the Americans at this time without first pulling Pollard out of harm’s way.

“Israel’s continuing failure to demonstrate the most minimal responsibility for the fate of her agent is shocking, particularly in light of all of the latest revelations of government malfeasance by both the US and Israel toward Pollard for the last 25 years,” the organizations said in a statement.

“If there is any American ‘incentive’ to release Pollard as a gesture to Israel – and a matter of simple justice – it is particularly at a time when the US is negotiating with Israel for what it wants. Now is the time to secure Pollard’s release, before any gestures are considered by Israel. Our position remains, now more than ever: Pollard must be freed as a matter of simple justice – and he must be freed now.”

In the weeks ahead of Sunday’s 25th anniversary, notable American and Israeli officials who were involved with Pollard’s arrest have pushed for his release. The officials include Pollard’s former handler, Rafi Eitan, and Lawrence Korb, who was undersecretary of state under Caspar Weinberger at the time of Pollard’s arrest.

The latest to join the list was Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, who was an attaché in Washington and the most senior official at the Israeli Embassy on the day Pollard was arrested. In a speech at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on November 15, Rubinstein said he heard about the arrest only after it happened.



“I hope and believe that the government of Israel will continue to act to free Jonathan Pollard,” he said. “Many mistakes have been made. But there is no way to go back and undo the past. The time has come, for both moral and humane reasons, to free Jonathan Pollard.

“Twenty-five years is a heavy price. It is my hope that the United States, as an enlightened country, will release him.”

On November 18, Congressmen Barney Frank, Bill Pascrell Jr., Anthony Weiner and Steven Rothman, along with representatives of major US Jewish organizations, held a press conference to call for Obama to grant Pollard clemency.

At the press conference, they released a letter to Obama, signed by 39 Democratic members of Congress, asking him to act on the Pollard issue.

“We believe that there has been a great disparity from the standpoint of justice between the amount of time Mr. Pollard has served and the time that has been served – or not served at all – by many others who were found guilty of similar activity on behalf of nations that, like Israel, are not adversarial to us,” the letter says.

“It is indisputable in our view that the nearly 25 years that Mr. Pollard has served stands as a sufficient time from the standpoint of either punishment or deterrence.”

The signatories stress that were Pollard released now, it would “not in any way imply doubt about his guilt, nor cast any aspersions on the process by which he was convicted.”

They called clemency for Pollard after his 25-year sentence an “act of compassion.”

The release of Pollard, a former US Navy intelligence analyst who is serving a life sentence for passing classified material to Israel, was recently floated as a possible bargaining chip for the US in its quest to convince Netanyahu to extend a settlement freeze that the Palestinians are demanding as a condition to restart stalled peace talks.

Additionally, Pollard’s lawyer has recently filed a clemency request with the White House after revelations suggesting government malfeasance in the case surfaced.

The congressmen who signed on to the letter to Obama did not cite these developments in making their appeal.

“The fact that Mr. Pollard’s sentence has been unduly harsh compared to sentences of other individuals convicted of similar crimes is wrong,” Rothman said. “The crime he committed was very serious, but the time that he has served, 25 years, has fully met the needs of punishment and deterrence. Also, Mr. Pollard has long expressed remorse for his actions.”

Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report from Washington.

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