How Pollard was held captive by 35 years of politics - analysis

A number of previous opportunities to release Pollard were passed up.

Convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard departs US District court after a hearing with his wife Elaine in the Manhattan borough of New York December 14, 2015. (photo credit: LUCAS JACKSON / REUTERS)
Convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard departs US District court after a hearing with his wife Elaine in the Manhattan borough of New York December 14, 2015.
(photo credit: LUCAS JACKSON / REUTERS)
Pardons and commutations are traditionally granted in the US the week ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The president holds a ceremony at the White House with a real-life turkey to “pardon him” and then signs a stack of documents enabling the release of dozens of prisoners.
The same could have happened to Jonathan Pollard. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have praised President Donald Trump and added Pollard’s name to a long list of gifts Trump had given Israel during his four years in the White House.
But that would have been the wrong way to bring about the release of Pollard, who always shunned politics. He never wanted to be “traded” for Palestinian terrorists or to be a bargaining chip given to Israel in exchange for withdrawing from land.
That almost happened to Pollard on several occasions. During the Wye River Accords Netanyahu signed in 1998, it was so definite that Pollard’s release would be part of the deal, that his parents had been told to get ready for their son, and media packs about him were prepared.
Former Netanyahu spokesman Aviv Bushinsky recalled that before going to Wye, Netanyahu took polls to determine how to soften the blow of him relinquishing land in the deal.
The poll found that he should bring about the release of Azzam Azzam from Egypt and Pollard from the US. Then-US president Bill Clinton promised Netanyahu that Pollard could be part of the deal before he left Israel for the summit. 
On the eve of the signing, Netanyahu told Clinton: “I am agreeing to sign. Now it’s your turn to deliver and release Pollard.” But after Clinton called CIA director George Tenet, he came back and said the release was vetoed, because Tenet threatened to resign.
US negotiator Dennis Ross revealed in his 2005 book The Missing Peace that he had advised Clinton to keep Pollard in prison as a bargaining chip for final-status peace talks.
“Is it a big political issue in Israel and will it help Bibi [Netanyahu]?” Clinton asked Ross.
“Yes,” Ross replied, “because he is considered a soldier for Israel” and “there is an ethos in Israel that you never leave a soldier behind in the field. But if you want my advice, I would not release him now. It would be a huge payoff for Bibi; you don’t have many like this in your pocket. I would save it for permanent status. You will need it later; don’t use it now.”
The year before Pollard was released on parole, another attempt was made that ended unsuccessfully, which was revealed exclusively by The Jerusalem Post. Then-president Shimon Peres, who was prime minister at the time of Pollard’s arrest and gave the US documents with Pollard’s fingerprints that incriminated him, was drafted to persuade then-US president Barack Obama to intervene.
The two presidents were due to meet in Washington during Peres’s final tour in office on June 25, six days before the parole hearing. Peres vowed to the people of Israel to take action for Pollard, and the Israeli agent’s pro-bono lawyers prepared him meticulously.
Peres’s message to Obama was to be the following: You don’t have to grant clemency. In fact, you can distance yourself from the matter completely. Just privately let the US Justice Department know that you don’t oppose paroling Pollard and letting him leave for Israel.
Obama would not need to get his hands dirty, just keep the commitment he had made to Israelis 15 months earlier to treat Pollard fairly, like any other prisoner, and let his parole be assessed naturally on the merits of his case.
Following the meeting, Peres’s diplomatic adviser, Nadav Tamir, reported back to the lawyers with good news: The message had indeed been delivered.
Peres’s office leaked to the press that Obama had personally referred the matter to his attorney-general and close confidant Eric Holder – the head of the American Justice Department and the chief law enforcement officer of the US government.
“The entire nation is interested in releasing Pollard, and I am the emissary of the nation,” Peres told reporters after the meeting. “I don’t think of myself as Shimon. I am the representative of the State of Israel, and I speak in the name of its people.”
Pollard entered the room at his prison skeptical but cautiously optimistic, ready to see what his first parole hearing would be like.
But all hopes that the hearing would be fair were dashed immediately. The government’s representatives spoke menacingly, treated Pollard with contempt, prevented his lawyer from making his case, and made it clear that the Israeli agent would not see the Jewish state any time soon, if ever.
Those present described the hearing as a “kangaroo court” and even “a lynching.”
Pollard’s parole came a year later and was granted for technical, not political reasons. The unprecedented parole restrictions he faced were typical for Pollard, whose life sentence was also an exception to the rule.
He served more than 20 years longer than anyone ever convicted of spying for an ally, the victim of attempts to make an example of him and deter future spies. The plea agreement he signed that was supposed to guarantee he would not be given a life sentence went ignored.
Former CIA head James Woolsey blamed Pollard’s continued incarceration on antisemitism, in an interview with The Post’s Caroline Glick.
“My view is that he should be treated like other intelligence assets of allies,” he said. “We spy on some allies, and they have spied on us. Because they’re allies, usually they have only been in prison for a few years. What I said is that people shouldn’t be hung up on him being Jewish or Israeli. Pretend he’s Greek and release him.”
It is only fitting that Pollard finally ended up getting his release on Friday – not because of politics but in spite of politics.