NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A stunning development has surfaced in the Middle East, as the U.S. has offered to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in an effort to kick-start peace talks.
As CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported Tuesday, it is a move that two former presidents refused to do.
But does Pollard want to be a political pawn?
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry left Israel after making the extraordinary offer to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Pollard has spent 27 years in an American prison after being convicted of spying for Israel.
However, Pollard may have problems with the deal.
“He has expressed reservations about being released,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. “He doesn’t want his freedom to come at the cost of jeopardizing the lives of Israelis with the release of terrorists – people who have blood on their hands.”
In an exclusive interview with CBS 2, Hoenlein said Kerry made the offer as a carrot to the Israeli cabinet so that its members would approve freedom for hundreds of Palestinians – and keep the faltering peace process alive for another nine months.
“It’s meant to be a sweetener,” Hoenlein said.
The latest attempt at settling the decades-old Middle East peace conflict was set to expire April 29. Kerry rushed to the region on Monday, pushing a new formula that included Pollard’s freedom, an agreement by Israel to show “great restraint” in approving new housing construction in the West Bank, and the release of 400 Palestinians held in Israeli jails that is days overdue.
The U.S. wants the talks to continue.
“Everybody wants just now, given all the turmoil in the Middle East, to buy a period of calm and quiet and talk, in the hope that maybe out of it can come an agreement,” Hoenlein said.
Yet, the inclusion of Pollard is incredibly controversial. The former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst was convicted of espionage for giving classified documents to his Israeli handlers. The idea of his release is popular in Israel.
“Pollard should have been released years ago already,” said Jerusalem resident Mos Ilan Farkash. “He’s not a murderer, and he’s not a killer. He was a spy, and I think it’s time to let him free.”
“He served far longer than many convicted espionage spies of other countries,” added Jerusalem resident Bon Martha.
Those familiar with the talks said Pollard would be released before the Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins April 14. He is eligible for parole next year.
In Washington, officials remained tight-lipped Tuesday, saying President Barack Obama has not made a decision to release Pollard.
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