Peres to be asked to push for Pollard's release

Humanitarian approach returns in place of seeking political deal; Pollard's wife expected to meet with Israeli president before Washington visit to urge him to use close ties with Obama to have her husband freed.

Gil Hoffman - The Jerusalem Post - May 18, 2014

Efforts to bring about the release of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard will shift back from political to humanitarian grounds in upcoming weeks ahead of President Shimon Peres's June 25 meeting with his American counterpart, Barack Obama in the White House, officials involved in the effort said Sunday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry received permission from Obama to offer Pollard's freedom to Israel as a gesture if Israel would have released 14 Israeli Arab murderers to the Palestinian Authority two months ago. But Bayit Yehudi ministers Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel threatened to quit the coalition if the murderers were set free, which delayed the deal, and then the Palestinians broke their commitment to not appeal to the United Nation, leading to a breakdown in the talks.

It is believe that Pollard, whose health continues to deteriorate, would not have rejected his release via such an agreement because he understood that it was the only way for him to be released from prison alive. But he has written against releasing terrorists, and Peres obtaining his release on humanitarian grounds from Obama would clearly be his preference.

Esther Pollard, the agent's wife, is expected to meet with Peres before he departs for Washington to urge him to use his close relationship with Obama to save her husband's life. Peres is seen as the only Israeli official close enough to Obama to persuade him.

An Israeli official working for the release of Pollard noted that when he was prime minister, Peres took a historically unprecedented step of cooperating with the prosecution of his own agent and returned documents with Pollard's fingerprints to the US. The documents were seen as the only hard evidence that the US had against Pollard.

"This is a golden opportunity for Peres, not only to save Pollard but to repair his tarnished legacy," the official said. "If Peres were to bring Pollard home with him now, his legacy would be assured."

Last December, Peres publicly announced that he would devote the rest of time in office to securing Pollard's release. But the last time he went to Washington in June 2012, Peres returned home with the presidential medal of freedom from Obama but not Pollard.

"Success for Peres in this matter would demonstrate that Obama's esteem for the Israeli president is not just empty rhetoric and gold-plated medals," the Israeli official said.

An American source close to the negotiations for Pollard's release said that now that there is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians, there was now no reason why Pollard could not be released as a gesture to Peres.

"President Obama has crossed the Rubicon on Pollard," the American source said. "He did so when he demonstrated that it is now possible to free Jonathan Pollard as part of a diplomatic process."

In an interview with Ha'aretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid, a White House official said Pollard's release had been indefinitely removed from the table.

"Pollard's release is something that was discussed in a certain context and this context is over," the White House official said.

Nevertheless, Labor MK Nachman Shai, who heads the Knesset's pro-Pollard caucus, expressed hope Pollard could be released when diplomatic talks start again. The Palestinians are still pushing to get the 14 Israeli Arabs released and Pollard's fate is still tied to them.

"Once Pollard's release was put on the table it cannot be removed and we won't let it," Shai said. "I would have done the deal and released the 14 murderers for Pollard. I am sorry we didn't. But I am sure the deal will come back to the table. The Americans still have the card out, and when the talks are renewed, Pollard will be there."

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