Fate of Israeli spy Pollard linked to peace talks

Israel would have to undertake significant concessions to the Palestinians

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The United States and Israel are discussing the possibility of releasing convicted spy Jonathan Pollard from prison early in exchange for Israeli concessions that would allow faltering peace talks with the Palestinians to continue beyond an end-of-April deadline.

According to two separate sources close to the talks, Pollard's release is being discussed in the context of efforts to secure an extension of the peace talks with the Palestinians, although no decision has yet been made.

U.S. defense and intelligence officials have consistently argued against releasing Pollard, who is serving a life sentence, according to the Associated Press.

Pollard was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he gave thousands of classified documents to his Israeli handlers.

Pollard was arrested in Washington in 1985 and condemned to life imprisonment for spying on the United States on behalf of Israel.

His release is a major rallying point for the Israeli right but is also broadly supported across the political spectrum.

A source said there was a proposal which could see Pollard freed before the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins in mid-April, according to AFP.

In exchange, Israel would agree to release a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners, which it recently blocked, and both parties would agree to a US proposal to extend the negotiations beyond an April 29 deadline.

Israel would also agree to free another group of Palestinian prisoners, but it would not include anyone convicted of anti-Israeli attacks.

Earlier on Monday, a Palestinian official said the Ramallah leadership had refused an Israeli proposal offering the release of 420 prisoners, mostly petty criminals, in exchange for an extension.

Ahead of his trip to the Middle East last March, President Barack Obama told Israeli television station Channel 2 that Pollard “is an individual who committed a very serious crime here in the United States.”

“He’s been serving his time,” Obama said. “I have no plans for releasing Jonathan Pollard immediately but what I am going to be doing is to make sure that he, like every other American who’s been sentenced, is accorded the same kinds of review and the same examination of the equities that any other individual would provide.”

The president said at the time that while he recognized the emotions involved in the situation, he had a responsibility to uphold the law.

“As the president my first obligation is to observe the law here in the United States and to make sure that it’s applied consistently, he said. “There are a lot of individuals in prisons in the United States who have committed crimes who would love to be released early as well and I’ve got to make sure that every individual is treated fairly and equally.”

[With AFP and AP]