As I wrote earlier, it is nothing less than a disgrace for the Obama administration to be pressuring Israel to release 82 Palestinian terrorists, including many mass murderers, in order to entice the Palestinian Authority to take part in peace talks. It is even more atrocious for Washington to be ignoring the pain of the families of these killers’ victims when you consider that the PA has made no secret about the fact that any deals they might theoretically sign are a ruse and not a genuine attempt to make peace. But as bad as this story is, it just got worse. Israeli newspapers are reporting that as part of the negotiations over the peace talks, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the United States to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.
Netanyahu is right to regard Pollard, a man who has served 27 years of a life sentence in federal prison for illegal acts done on behalf of the state of Israel, as his country’s responsibility. As I wrote in a COMMENTARY feature on the issue, there is a good case to be made on behalf of mercy for Pollard after all these years in spite of the terrible damage that he did. But if the spy has a shred of decency or is the Israeli patriot that he claims to be, he ought to refuse to be part of any prisoner exchange in which he would be swapped for terrorists, let alone serve as a sweetener aimed at convincing Netanyahu to agree to join the negotiations. That a man that supposedly sacrificed his freedom in order to strengthen Israeli security should be used as bait to weaken the country is a bitter irony.
This is not the first time Pollard’s name has come up during the course of peace talks. Netanyahu tried to get Bill Clinton to throw Pollard’s freedom into a 1998 negotiation for an Israeli territorial withdrawal on the West Bank. Clinton might have gone along with it but the idea of springing Pollard sent the U.S. security establishment into conniption fits and the president backed down. Since then, neither of Clinton’s successors has dared challenged the spooks on Pollard and the spy’s chances of release under almost any circumstance seem dim.
Most Israelis probably approve of Netanyahu’s request and his effort should not be construed as anything but an honorable effort to gain clemency for someone who, however misguided or ill considered his actions, did act on the behest of Israeli officials. But trading murderers for Pollard cannot put a gloss of legitimacy on an immoral swap. However bad Pollard’s crimes were, placing it on the same moral plane as acts of cold-blooded murder cheapens the suffering of the victims of Palestinian terror. As unlikely as Obama acceding to the request might be, should he defy his intelligence chiefs and agree to it, it would only place Israel under further obligation and cast Israel’s latest futile sacrifices for peace in an unsavory light. Though granting clemency to Pollard after so many years of punishment is probably the right thing for Obama to do, it should be kept separate from the peace process.