US officials confirmed Tuesday that the release of long-time captive Jonathan Pollard is on the negotiating table with Israel.
The catch: Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) would be forced to resume peace talks, and Israel would have to make "significant concessions."
IDF Radio reports that American media has already been briefed on the possibility of Pollard's release - which is still a possibility and "far from being assured," according to a source close to the White House. One of the concessions may include a building freeze in Judea and Samaria while talks continue.
Sudden change of plans
The news contradicts reports earlier this week, when the White House restated Wednesday that it has no intentions to free Pollard, after reports suggested the US was offering to release him in order to pressure Israel into going through with the last terrorist release and continuing peace talks. The report Monday night by the Reuters news agency was denied by the White House, which said that "nothing had changed" in its refusal to pardon Pollard.
Jonathan Pollard has recently been subject of a high-profile campaign for his release. He is now in his 29th year of incarceration in a US jail for passing classified security-related information from America to Israel. He was arrested by FBI agents in 1985 and has been held ever since, in harsh and sometimes inhuman conditions.
Pollard was arrested on charges far less serious than those that landed other spies in jail, yet those spies served a few years's jail time at most, critics noted, and slammed the US for "hypocrisy."
Several top US officials, including Former Deputy National Security advisor Elliott Abrams, United States Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Jonathan Pollard affair Lawrence Korb, and former CIA chief James Woolsey have also called for Pollard to be released. Former captive Gilad Shalit reiterated those calls in an emotional plea Monday morning.
Terrorist releases and Pollard's release
The US's offer has been seen by some as an act of desperation, a last-minute bid to save the peace talks faltering under the PA's stubbornness.
The controversy stems around the fourth batch of terrorist releases, as MKs point out that the previous releases have done nothing to further talks, and that several of the released terrorists have contributed to the increase in terror attacks over the past year.
PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat stated last month that Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was staying in talks solely for the sake of the terrorist releases, prompting Israeli officials to reconsider completing the deal - which has always been contingent on real progress in the talks.
In response, Israel told PA officials over the weekend that the deal was postponed, after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the release would "topple the government" due to public and political backlash.
On Saturday, the PA claimed that Israel had offered to release 400 terrorists from its prisons so that peace talks continue. The idea has sparked a tremendous backlash from several politicians and officials, including Economics Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) and former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin.
In the meantime, US Secretary of State John Kerry has scrambled to save talks, making last-minute meetings with both Abbas and Netanyahu Monday night. The Pollard offer is seen by many as an extension of this scramble.
The possibility of Pollard's release has been much talked-about in Israeli media as talks progress, and especially as outrage grows over the danger of releasing more terrorists.
On Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) stated that while Israel has an obligation to secure Pollard's release, he is against the idea of releasing a large batch for the sake of a single prisoner.
"If there is a chance to fulfill the State of Israel's moral obligation to Jonathan Pollard, I'd be willing to give them many terrorists, if it would make them happy," he continued. "I do not understand why Americans are happy over murderers being released, but that's their problem."
Elkin also clarified that his position on Israel's obligation to Pollard, in his opinion, is not the same as its obligation to protect IDF soldiers. As such, he said, he would only agree to such a deal if it were "a one-to-one ratio or close to it," and is opposed to "insane deals like we made with [Gilad Shalit]."
MK Danny Danon reiterated reservations about the exchange Tuesday morning.
"It turns out we are now caught in a conflict between the cynicism of Kerry and the morality and logic of Pollard and Israeli society," Danon wrote, in a Facebook post. He reminded readers that Pollard himself has asked not to be exchanged for terrorists, citing risks to Israel's security.