If reports are accurate that Benjamin Netanyahu plans to condition acceptance of the Kerry guidelines for peace on release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, it will only serve to reinforce the image of a prime minister intent on finding excuses to avoid peace.
Netanyahu is a man with many demands. If it's not Pollard, it’s the end of all Iranian nuclear activity, not just an end to its weapons program. And if it's not that it's that Palestinians endorse Israel as the Jewish state. And then of course, there are his continuing refusal to compromise on Jerusalem and his announcements of new settlement construction, widely considered less of a housing issue than finding another irritant to sabotage relations with the Palestinians.
Pollard may be a loyal Israeli spy, in Bibi's eyes, but he is still a traitor to the country a younger Netanyahu once considered making his own. Pollard is a traitor who sold out his country for pieces of silver, and to himself he is the new messiah.
It is hypocritical for Israel to complain about US surveillance, and not just because of Pollard but for ongoing activities that both – all – countries engage in. I am reminded of the time when Eisenhower, defending the U-2 overflights of the Soviet Union, said spying was something all countries do, and Nikita Khrushchev, the dictator and avowed atheist, replied, as he banged his shoe, "As God is my witness, my soul is clean."
Sure, buddy. Aren't you the guy who also said that anyone in power who survived the Stalin years did it with blood on his hands?
No, I'm certainly not comparing Bibi to Khrushchev, but there is a limit to the credibility of this kind of self-righteous indignation.
This wouldn't be the first time Netanyahu tried such a Pollard ploy. He did it in 1998 at the Wye River Plantation talks with Bill Clinton, insisting at one point that he wouldn't sign the accords unless he could take Pollard home with him. It didn't work then and it won't work now.
Israeli media over the past week or so have been reporting the Pollard-for-peace ploy, but the spy's backers have been downplaying it, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told Israel's Army Radio "there's no direct link between Pollard and the negotiations or the prisoner release. These are different issues."
Pay no attention to Pollard supporters who say his freedom will boost the chances for peace. While his release would be well received by most Israelis, it is unlikely to change any minds on making peace with the Palestinians. His most ardent sympathizers are strongest among the rejectionists and nationalists who oppose Palestinian statehood. They're constantly looking for hooks on which to hang their demands for freedom for their unrepentant hero. Sometimes it got absurd, like the rabbi who said Pollard's release would essential to Obama's reelection and critical to securing the Jewish vote.
That's a bunch of bubbehmysis. For starters, Pollard's base of support is on the right, among the settlers and the rejectionists. Obama could hang the Medal of Honor around his neck, pick him for the Kennedy Center Honors and name an aircraft carrier for him and it wouldn't make any difference.
If Pollard is to be released the decision should be made on the merits—genuine contrition, for starters – and not as a bargaining chip in a peace process his followers would denounce. If it is to be done for political purposes, it might be appropriate as a good will gesture to accompany the signing of the final peace treaty with the Palestinians. But would Pollard and his followers then lobby against that agreement?
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