Jonathan Pollard, the former U.S. intelligence agent who was convicted of spying for Israel, could be released before the Jewish holiday of Passover as part of efforts to save Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, an Israeli official involved in the talks told CNN.
Various suggestions for deals for Pollard’s release have been floated over the years but have not materialized. Passover starts on April 14.
Talk of Pollard’s possible release came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Israel on Monday to try to mediate a dispute between Israel and the Palestinians over the release of Palestinian prisoners. Kerry was in Belgium on Tuesday but will go back to Israel on Wednesday and also visit Ramallah, West Bank, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
No decisions have been made about Pollard’s release, which sources familiar with the talks have cautioned is far from certain and would need to be approved by President Barack Obama. Pollard’s possible release was being discussed as part of a broader agreement that has not been finalized.
In exchange for the release, the sources have said that Israel would have to make significant concessions to the Palestinians, which could include a settlement freeze, the release of additional prisoners beyond the current group in dispute, and an agreement to continue peace negotiations beyond the end-of-April deadline.
Pollard was convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel and is serving a life sentence in the United States. His imprisonment has been a source of tension between the U.S. and Israel.
The Israeli official said the parameters of a deal still emerging include negotiations with the Palestinians continuing into 2015, and an agreement that during that time, Palestinians would refrain from taking their case to international bodies.
A fourth Palestinian prisoner release would go ahead and would include Israeli Arabs, the official added. An additional 400 Palestinian prisoners would be released. Israel would determine those to be released, and they would not have blood on their hands, the official added.
Regarding settlements, there would not be a total freeze, but “Israel will act with great restraint,” he said.
There would be no new tenders for new housing in the West Bank — Jerusalem is not included in this provision — although work would proceed on tenders already issued, the official said. The halt on new tenders refers to housing only. Construction of other infrastructure, such as roads and hospitals, he said, would continue.
Asked about the talks and a possible release, Asher Mivzari, a spokesman for The Free Jonathan Pollard Committee, said the committee was not “reacting to the news.”
“Their message all along has been that Jonathan Pollard should have been freed a long time ago and this should be an outcome of justice in the American legal system,” he said.
Separately, a spokesman for Cabinet Minister Uri Ariel confirmed he had said he was against the release of “murderers” for Pollard.
SOURCE: Ben Wedeman, Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Elise Labott