Pollard for the freeze?

If Barack Obama offered the convicted spy’s release in exchange for the continuance of the freeze for another three months, Netanyahu could not say no.

Jonathan Pollard 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jonathan Pollard 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For years American leaders have lectured Israel about the need to make “sacrifices for peace,” and we have the tombstones to prove that we have, indeed, paid a heavy price when Palestinian terrorists exploited our security “sacrifices” to murder us in our cities and on our roads.
But is the peace process important enough to Washington that it also is willing to make sacrifices?
President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other key American officials are now publicly pressing Israel to unilaterally extend the settlement construction freeze for another three months.
And as of writing this, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is set to honor his very public promise to end the freeze next week.
But the truth is that Washington knows exactly what has to be done to force Jerusalem to extend the freeze by three months. A move that requires neither the cooperation nor the consent of any third parties.
If, as Army Radio reported Monday morning, Obama publicly offers to release Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a three-month extension of the settlement construction freeze, Netanyahu will have no choice but to accept the offer. He won’t have any reasonable excuse to justify rejecting the initiative.
After all, there is absolutely no doubt that the cabinet would overwhelmingly approve the deal. Just as important – if not more – none of the parties in the ruling coalition would threaten to leave the government in the event that such a deal is implemented.
Yes, there may be some right-wing politicians who will decry this as American “blackmail,” but the “price” of a three-month extension of the freeze, though a bitter pill, is magnitudes more palatable than “payment” in the form of the release of terrorist murderers or permanent territorial concessions.
WHAT DOES Pollard think about the swap? Who cares. He is a pawn, not a player.
Would Netanyahu breathe a sigh of relief or will the extension seriously complicate his game plan?
That’s not Obama’s concern. So the onus is on the White House.
After years of talking the talk about making sacrifices for peace, this is a clear-cut test of just how serious America is about the peace process.
Obama doesn’t need anyone’s cooperation to force Netanyahu to extend the freeze. All he needs to do is promise to deliver his pen stroke on the presidential document that would release Pollard.
The scenario, should the White House offer the deal, is fairly straightforward: a special vote of Netanyahu’s cabinet extending the freeze for three months, followed by the immediate release of Pollard and a photo op at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Add to that, it sends a clear message from the Obama administration to Israel, the Palestinians, the Arab nations and the world in general just how committed President Barack Obama is to advancing the peace process.
But what happens if Washington ignores this opportunity to extend the freeze? What impact will this have on Obama’s credibility?
Now it would have been one thing if the possibility of a Pollard-freeze extension swap only became public after the freeze ended. But this isn’t a case of Monday morning quarterbacking. The moment that news of the possible deal was broadcast on Army Radio and picked up by The Jerusalem Post as well as many other news organizations, it became very public knowledge.
And there isn’t a player in Israel, the region or the world who thinks that Netanyahu could reject the offer.
What message would Washington send if it took the position that keeping Pollard behind bars is more important than continuing the peace process? What example would this set for America’s allies and foes when Obama asks them to make concessions for the benefit of the “greater good”? And just how big a concession would releasing Pollard be?
IT WAS a last-minute secret memorandum to the court submitted by then-secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger which prompted the judge to ignore the plea agreement and sentence Pollard to life. Yet Weinberger himself recanted nearly two decades later, admitting in a 2002 interview that “the Pollard matter was comparatively minor. It was made far bigger than its actual importance.”
Other key officials concur. Former CIA director James Woolsey wrote a compelling letter to president George W. Bush urging him to commute Pollard’s sentence to time served before leaving office in January 2009. Similarly, former US senator Dennis DeConcini, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time of Pollard’s arrest, wrote to president Bill Clinton in 1996 and Bush in 2009 urging them to release Pollard.
Releasing Pollard in exchange for a three-month extension of the building freeze would not only resolve the current crisis in the peace process – it would be a superb humanitarian gesture, given his rapidly deteriorating health.
Mr. Obama, the ball is in your court.
The writer is director of Independent Media Review and Analysis.