JERUSALEM – The United States is talking with Israel about releasing convicted spy Jonathan Pollard early from his life sentence as an incentive to the Israelis in the troubled Mideast peace negotiations, people familiar with the talks said Monday. Releasing Pollard, a thorn in U.S.-Israeli relations for three decades, would underscore the urgency of U.S. peace efforts.
Two people describing the talks cautioned that such a release – which would be a dramatic turnaround from previous refusals – was far from certain and that discussions with Israel on the matter were continuing.
In return for the release, Israel would have to undertake significant concessions to the Palestinians in Middle East negotiations, the sources said. Such concessions could include some kind of freeze on Israeli settlements in disputed territory, the release of Palestinian prisoners beyond those Israel has already agreed to free and a guarantee that Israel would stay at the negotiating table beyond an end-of-April deadline.
Secretary of State John Kerry met for several hours late Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before sitting down with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and another Palestinian official. Kerry was expected to meet again Tuesday morning with Netanyahu before flying to Brussels for NATO talks on Ukraine.
Pollard, an American Jew, was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he gave thousands of classified documents to his Israeli handlers. Israel recruited him to pass along U.S. secrets, including satellite photos and data on Soviet weaponry, in the 1980s. He was arrested by FBI agents in Washington in 1985 after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He pleaded guilty to leaking classified documents to Israel and received a life sentence.
Pollard could be released from prison on Nov. 21, 2015 – 30 years after his arrest.