The Israeli cabinet took a courageous and politically unpopular step by approving the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners, including many terrorists who had murdered Israeli babies, women, the elderly and other civilians. According to Israeli intelligence some of these released murderers are likely to rejoin terrorist organizations and may kill again. Relatives and friends of the victims have protested the decision to release these killers. Yet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet withstood these pressures and ordered their release.
The United States government had pressured the Israeli government to release these prisoners because the Palestinian Authority had made their release a condition to resuming peace talks. The Israeli government, which had agreed to peace talks with no preconditions, submitted to the Palestinian precondition, and talks are now likely to go forward.
Prime Minister Netanyahu had reportedly asked the Obama Administration to make it easier for him to release Palestinian murderers by releasing Jonathan Pollard, who has already served 28 years for spying for Israel. No American in history has ever come close to serving that long—indeed none has ever served a double digit sentence—for spying for an American ally. Moreover, there were grave doubts about the lawfulness of Pollard’s sentence, as evidenced by the strong words of the dissenting judge who characterized the government’s breach of the plea agreement as a “fundamental miscarriage of justice requiring relief…”
But the Obama Administration slammed the door in Netanyahu’s face by categorically rejecting the request to commute Pollard’s sentence to the excessive term he has already served. Despite this rebuff from the Obama Administration, Netanyahu agreed to release the prisoners. Now the Palestinian Authority is asking for more prisoners to be released including some of the most dangerous terrorists on the face of the earth. The United States will probably continue to put pressure on Israel to risk the lives of its own civilians by releasing more Palestinian terrorists in order to get the Palestinians to continue to negotiate.
The time has come—indeed it is well passed—for the United States to do the right thing with regard to Jonathan Pollard. Pollard poses no continuing danger to America, since he has not had access to our secrets for nearly 30 years. Unlike the Palestinian prisoners who are to be released, he has expressed regret over his actions and has sought forgiveness. Moreover, his life sentence is excessive by any standard of justice and it violated the government’s plea bargain which promised, in exchange for Pollard’s guilty plea, not to seek life imprisonment.
Peace between Israel and the Palestinians requires the active involvement of the United States, as evidenced by Secretary John Kerry’s intensive efforts to bring the parties together. But if peace is in our national interest, as the Obama Administration insists it is, and if peace requires sacrifice by both Israel and the Palestinians, then we too must be willing to give a little. Releasing Jonathan Pollard after requiring him to serve 27 years, some in solitary confinement, is not much of a sacrifice to ask of the United States. It is the least we can do to make it easier for Israel to make far greater sacrifices and take far more dangerous risks in order to secure peace.
The request to release Pollard now has bipartisan support in the United States and multi-partisan support in Israel. Knesset members on all sides of the Israeli political spectrum have called for Pollard’s release as a way of encouraging the peace process. “It’s a window of opportunity of good will to Israeli, who are not going through an easy time,” said Labor MK Nachman Shai. “It would build up public support for negotiations and show that the US also understands the gravity of this historic moment.”
American political leaders from both sides of the aisle, as well as from all religious backgrounds, have called for Pollard’s release on compassionate grounds, based on the length of his sentence and his deteriorating physical condition.
Israel will go forward with negotiations regardless of whether Pollard is released, because the Israeli government wants a peaceful resolution that assures security. But in the end the Israeli public will have to vote for any deal struck between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, with the help of American negotiators. The outcome of any such referendum will depend on whether Israeli voters believe that their security has been assured and that the United States continues to stand behind them. Releasing Jonathan Pollard—as a gesture of good will, as a show of American support, and in the interests of justice and compassion—will go a long way toward encouraging the Israeli public to vote in favor of a peace agreement that requires great sacrifices on their part.