The Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu will link the release of former US naval intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard, convicted of spying against the US for Israel, to progress in the US-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians, Israeli media reported on Tuesday.
The reports said Netanyahu would either demand Pollard’s release when Israel signed a framework agreement, or as part of a prisoner exchange involving Arab citizens of Israel held for terrorist offences, who have always been excluded from previous agreements.
Netanyahu’s office declined to confirm or deny the story, which was reported by most of Israel’s most well-informed diplomatic correspondents — a favoured method of leaking sensitive information.
Netanyahu appeared to be responding to mounting pressure following revelations that Britain’s GCHQ and America’s National Security Agency had targeted then Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, his defence minister, Ehud Barak, and Barak’s chief of staff.
Pollard was imprisoned in 1987 and has served longer than any other spy captured in the US. Repeated Israeli requests for his release have been ignored, although they have lately been joined by top US officials responsible for his prosecution, including Lawrence Kolb, deputy to then US defence secretary Caspar Weinberger.
“We ask that you seriously consider the requests that there have been from top current and former American officials and release Pollard on humanitarian grounds,” said a letter to The US president, Barack Obama, signed by more than 100 Israeli MPs and ministers ahead of a special session in the Knesset on Wednesday.
“It’s a matter of justice,” said the deputy defence minister, Danny Danon. “The Americans can’t come to us asking for more and more while Pollard remains in prison.”
Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier released in a prisoner swap in 2011 after being held for five years by Hamas, added his moral weight to the campaign and called on “our American friends” to release him.
“After Israel released terrorists with blood on their hands as a gesture to the Palestinians — this is an appropriate reciprocal gesture,” Shalit wrote in a national newspaper column.
However, some close observers of the tangled web of US-Israeli relations warned that the latest leaks might be designed more for domestic consumption as Netanyahu grapples with the fractious right wing of his party ahead of next week’s planned prisoner release against a background of scattered but increasing Palestinian violence.
“There are so many difficult issues right now on the agenda between Obama and Netanyahu that to add Pollard to that with all of the baggage that it carries is not likely,” said Professor Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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