Sen. John McCain and Secretary of State John Kerry got into a heated stare-off over the apparent death of the Israel-Palestinian peace talks earlier this week. Kerry blamed the Israelis for, essentially, the Palestinian desire to destroy their country.
If reports coming out of Israel are true, today, Kerry has sweetened the pot and struck a deal. But it’s a deal that would set some bad precedents.
As teams met in Jerusalem, source tells Al Arabiya Israel agrees to free prisoners, freeze West Bank construction, while Palestinian will backtrack UN bid and US will release Pollard in final bid to save peace talks. US, Palestinians, Israel sources claim report ‘premature’.
An unnamed source told Al Arabiya that a deal has been reached to extend peace talks, but all three parties have since downplayed the claim as premature, but the US did say “gaps were narrowing” in talks.
Jonathan Pollard was convicted of spying on the US and sentence to life in prison. He has served 27 years of that sentence. He was spying for the Israelis, and has remained a sore spot in US-Israel relations ever since. Releasing him would ignite a firestorm in Congress. If Kerry thought McCain gave him the hair-dryer treatment earlier, he hasn’t seen anything yet.
The firestorm may not come, though. Politico says that the State Department is quashing the exchange story.
Administration officials moved quickly Thursday to shoot down reports that a deal had been struck to keep open negotiations over a framework for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that would include releasing the former Navy intelligence officer and convicted spy from a North Carolina prison.
“Nothing has changed. No decision has been made about Jonathan Pollard,” said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki.
Special envoy Martin Indyk, who remained in the region meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials after a frustrated Secretary of State John Kerry left last week, ended his talks Thursday without a deal.
“There is no breakthrough. All of the current rumors that a deal has been reached are false,” a senior administration official said.
That’s pretty definitive.
Releasing Pollard in exchange for promises and an extended talks deadline could put a whole lot of people who are currently held in US prisons in play in Israel-Palestinian negotiations. First among them, the Blind Sheikh who masterminded the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. It was actually a demand to release Omar Abdel-Rahman, not a YouTube movie, that sparked the Cairo riot in September 2011 that culminated with terrorists jumping the walls of the US embassy there and replacing the American flag with the black flag of Islam. It’s unwise for the US to put anyone in our prisons in play.
What Kerry stands to gain by releasing Pollard is, from the Israelis, the release of over 100 Palestinians along with a halt to settlement construction, and from the Palestinians, a promise not to engage in the unilateral statehood moves that they’re not supposed to be involved in anyway, and from both, an extension in the talks.
Is that enough to set such a dangerous precedent?