(photo credit: AP)
The eight-year presidency of George W. Bush has ended with Jonathan Pollard still in prison.
None of us should feign surprise. Despite thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of phone calls, e-mails and letters to the White House from Pollard sympathizers, the Bush Administration never even hinted that it might be softening its no-pardon/no-commutation stance as to Pollard.
The beginning of a presidency is never "pardon season," and that fact would appear to mean that Jonathan Pollard will be in prison until 2012 at least.
Yet there is one ray of hope. The new American vice president, Joe Biden, had, until early 2008, been a presidential candidate. In Biden's presidential candidate days, while he was trying to court the Jewish vote, he was asked about Jonathan Pollard. Biden responded that Pollard should be given "leniency." What precisely did Biden mean by "leniency" in the case of Jonathan Pollard - who has already been in prison for more than two decades? Apparently he was not asked to elaborate.
Now that the Bush presidency has ended, it is time for the new vice president to explain what he meant by leniency.
How, and by whom, should that question be posed to Vice President Biden? By President Shimon Peres.
IN JUNE 2007, shortly after Peres was elected president, I wrote in an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post that Peres was uniquely qualified to champion the Pollard cause. Because of Peres's role - as the prime minister during most of the time that Pollard engaged in espionage, and as the prime minister who helped ensure that the US government could successfully prosecute Pollard - I argued that Peres has the moral obligation to do more than his predecessors to get Pollard out of prison. I further argued that Peres's high standing in the Western world gave him the unique ability to win the ear of an administration that had not shown any interest in softening its position as to Pollard.
My op-ed urged Peres to make the Pollard cause his primary agenda item.
In early July 2007, I sent to Peres a copy of my op-ed. My cover letter stated that I had received a message from the Pollard family that it would be open to having the president intervene on Pollard's behalf.
Over three months later, in mid-October, the president's office sent me a three-line letter, "thanking" me for sending the copy.
Perhaps President Peres has been engaged in secret (very secret) "behind-the-scene" efforts to win Pollard's release. If so, he is doing a much better job at keeping those efforts secret than he did with the Oslo negotiations.
More likely than not, Peres has washed his hands of the Pollard affair. And the saddest part is that the Israeli public is letting him get away with it.
Therein lies the irony. Thousands of dual citizens of the US and Israel, residing in Israel, phoned the White House and sent letters to pressure an American president to release a convicted spy, yet so little pressure has been put on the president of the country that recruited that spy - who himself was (a quarter century ago) responsible for much of the Pollard debacle.
Those Israelis for whom Pollard's release from prison is important should now focus their efforts on pressuring Shimon Peres to make the Pollard case his cause.
Beit Hanassi should be bombarded with phone calls, letters and e-mails until Peres gets the message.
IT IS important to remember that Israeli presidents, by and large, set their own agendas. Shimon Peres does not have to run an army or the Treasury, and he does not have to prevent teachers' strikes. And, of course, he is not running for election next month.
Yet Peres does have a budget that exceeds NIS 25 million.
On the issue of money, it is important to note that, shortly after entering office, Peres requested that the Knesset increase his travel budget by NIS 1.5 million. Our president has demonstrated that he is not afraid to use his extensive travel budget when the people of Israel need him to: For example, he traveled to England two months ago to receive an honorary degree from King's College.
Peres should be made to feel the heat. The message should be very clear: Use your discretionary budget (and time) to travel to Washington to seek Pollard's release, and Pollard's sympathizers will not leave you alone until you achieve something.
If the Pollard sympathizers who bombarded the White House in recent weeks were to focus their attention on Peres, there is a reasonable chance that we could know, early on in the Obama administration, whether its position on the Pollard case is likely to be any different from that of its four predecessors.
There are those who would say that, with a new American administration focused on the worst recession in memory, now is not the time to raise the Pollard issue. But the new American administration will still deal with foreign affairs, and fixing the economy will not command 100 percent of the time of Barack Obama or Joe Biden.
For Shimon Peres, the Nobel laureate, Obama and Biden will make time.
The real question is: Will Peres make time for Pollard?
The author is an American-Israeli lawyer practicing in Ramat Gan. He serves as a vice chair of the Middle East Law Committee of the American Bar Association.