Report: U.S. may release Pollard to keep peace talks afloat
Washington said to be desperate to avoid cancellation of final prisoner release, scheduled for end-March.
Haaretz - March 23, 2014
Officials in Washington are considering the release of jailed Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard as a means of keeping the deadlocked peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians alive, Israel Radio reported on Sunday.
Pollard's release is just one idea being explored in Washington and there's no certainty that it would be adopted by President Barack Obama, the radio noted.
Washington is desperate to ensure that Israel releases a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners at the end of March, as scheduled. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure from his ministers to cancel that release, due to the impasse in the negotiations. The Palestinians have stated that all talks will cease if the release does not go ahead.
The radio quoted Israeli diplomats as saying that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected a request by Obama that he consider a delay in the release during their meeting in Washington last week.
The talks, which began last summer, are due to conclude at the beginning of April with a mutually-agreed framework for continued negotiations. However, there has been no progress in several weeks, with both Israel and the Palestinians refusing to budge from their core positions.
American officials are very concerned that the talks between Israel and Palestinian Authority could break down totally. The two sides are deadlocked, and no progress has been made for weeks, the officials were quoted as saying by Israel Radio - and the administration of President Barack Obama is feverishly trying to come up with a formula that will keep both sides talking.
The talks, which began last summer, were supposed to have concluded at the beginning of April with a framework for negotiations, to be written by Secretary of State John Kerry. But PA chief Mahmoud Abbas has made it clear numerous times that he will not concede on the Palestinian's "core" demands - an Israeli withdrawal from all of Judea, Samaria, and much of Jerusalem; free immigration of the descendants of Arabs who fled Israel in 1948 into Israel; and no recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Under such conditions, Netanyahu has told diplomats, there is no way he could get an agreement with the PA approved by his government.
The US, therefore, is considering various "creative" ideas to make the deal more appealing, the report said. Among them is an idea Netanyahu himself proposed - releasing Jonathan Pollard, who has been in an American prison for nearly three decades on charges of spying for Israel. The diplomats said that it was not clear Obama would agree to such a condition.
As a "concession" to persuade Abbas to resume the talks after a three year hiatus, Israel agreed to release some 100 terrorists from its prisons, in four batches. The last batch is set to be released at the end of March, but Netanyahu is under pressure from his ministers to cancel that release. The PA has made it clear that if the terrorists are not released, all talks will cease.
Obama, the diplomats said, asked Abbas during their meeting in Washington last week to consider a delay in the released, but the PA chief adamantly refused.
With that, the report said, the diplomats were hopeful that a "creative solution" could be found on the issue of the PA's recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, that would satisfy both sides.
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