Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard would not turn down an opportunity to receive US presidential commutation of his life sentence as part of an agreement in which Palestinian and Israeli prisoners are released, well-placed sources told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
Pollard’s release would be presented as a gesture to Israel by US President Barack Obama, who has made similar gestures to Russia. Commuting Pollard’s life sentence to the 28-and-a-half years he has served may not be considered an official part of the agreement.
The sources said that Pollard, whose health continues to deteriorate, understood that the only way for him to be released from prison alive was via such an agreement. They vigorously denied reports that he had rejected a parole hearing due to opposition to being included in a swap that freed Palestinian terrorists.
Sources knowledgeable about the legal initiatives to secure Pollard’s release said his lawyers had merely asked to postpone the hearing due to pending litigation. Pollard’s attorneys have been fighting for access to classified information in his sentencing file that the US government intends to use against him in the hearing.
The file includes classified portions of a memorandum written by the late American defense secretary Caspar Weinberger that was used to incriminate Pollard but has since been discredited by top American security officials who worked closely with Weinberger at the time. The officials, who have read the classified documents, said they contained grave factual errors.
The second reason Pollard asked to delay the hearing was due to his failing health. While the ongoing political efforts to bring about his release were not connected to the request to delay the hearing, presidential clemency would be much more beneficial to Pollard than parole.
Rather than set Pollard completely free, parole would merely “release him to community supervision.” His sentence would continue for another 15 years, during which he could be rearrested or at least prevented from leaving the US.
Pollard’s release is not expected to be blocked by either Israeli or Palestinian politicians. Statements by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas against a swap were dismissed as posturing in an effort to sweeten the payoff.
The only cabinet ministers who have openly said they would oppose a prisoner exchange that includes Pollard are Uzi Landau and Yair Shamir of Yisrael Beytenu and Israel Katz of the Likud. Katz said such a deal would be unethical as well as unfair to Pollard.
Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel of Bayit Yehudi condemned the United States for not releasing Pollard due to the merits of his case. But officials in his party were careful on Tuesday not to say that they would leave Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition over such an agreement.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon of the Likud said he would quit his post over the release of terrorists even if Pollard was included.
He called upon Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett to follow suit.
“This is a cynical attempt by [US Secretary of State John] Kerry and Netanyahu to add Pollard in order to justify releasing murderers who will return to terror,” Danon said.
Similar statements were made at a rally of the Almagor organization of terror victims outside Netanyahu’s residence in the capital. At the rally, Yaakov Tubul, whose son Lior’s murderer would be released in the swap, read a letter from Pollard from several years ago opposing a trade for Fatah leader and convicted murderer Marwan Barghouti. The rally was also attended by relatives of the Fogel and Applebaum families, whose members were killed in high-profile terrorist attacks.
“America is holding Pollard hostage to be used as a bargaining chip to bring about the release of murderers,” Almagor head Meir Indor said. “It harms Pollard to be equated with murderers by making such a deal.”