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Reports: U.S., Israel Discussing Release Of American Spy

Israeli protesters call for the release of Jonathan Pollard (portraits), a Jewish American who was arrested in 1985 for giving Israel thousands of secret documents about U.S. espionage in the Arab world.
Gali Tibbon
AFP/Getty Images
Israeli protesters call for the release of Jonathan Pollard (portraits), a Jewish American who was arrested in 1985 for giving Israel thousands of secret documents about U.S. espionage in the Arab world.

Update at 9:15 a.m. ET, April 1: Agreement Is "Near":

"Officials involved in the fraught Israeli-Palestinian peace talks said on Tuesday that an agreement was near to extend the negotiations through 2015 in exchange for the release of Jonathan J. Pollard, an American serving a life sentence for spying for Israel," The New York Times writes this morning in a follow to news that it and some other outlets broke on Monday.

According to the Times: "The agreement would also include the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including citizens of Israel, and a partial freeze on construction in West Bank settlements."

From Jerusalem, NPR's Emily Harris adds that:

"The outlines of the possible deal include the U.S. freeing Pollard within the next two weeks. Israel would release Palestinians from Israeli prisons and stop seeking bids for new housing construction in the occupied West Bank. Talks would continue into 2015. This is according to a person close to the discussions who is not authorized to comment publicly.

"Palestinian officials won't confirm the specifics, but say they are angry about the process so far. Secretary of State John Kerry canceled a meeting with Palestinian Authority president Mahmood Abbas last night when a meeting with Israel's prime minister ran late. Even if a deal is reached to extend peace negotiations, there is doubt on both sides that these talks will end the conflict."

Our original post picks up the story:

The United States and Israel are discussing the possible release of Jonathan Pollard, an American who was convicted of spying for Israel and sentenced to a life in prison, The New York Times, Haaretz and The Associated Press are reporting.

All three outlets are quoting unnamed officials and on the record, both the White House and the State Department refused to confirm the reports on Monday.

"[Pollard] is a person who is convicted of espionage and is serving his sentence, and I don't have any update on his situation," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

The Times, however, quotes American officials saying the U.S. has put a Pollard release on the table to try to save sputtering talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

As part of the peace talks, Israel had agreed to release Palestinian prisoners in batches. The last one was supposed to happen on Saturday but did not, because Israel wanted Palestinians to agree to extend the talks beyond April, when they were supposed to conclude with a framework agreement.

The Times reports:

"The possibility that Mr. Pollard's release would be considered came as Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel to try to resolve a dispute between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators over the release of Palestinian prisoners and the continuation of peace talks.

"It is the second time that Mr. Kerry has interrupted foreign travels to rush to the Middle East to confer on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which started last summer.

"Mr. Kerry met Monday evening with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Mr. Kerry also intended to meet with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, possibly Tuesday morning in Ramallah, but the details had not yet been set."

The Times reports that Pollard has become an increasingly important figure in Israel:

"In a measure of the popular support that Mr. Pollard's case now garners in Israel, the newspaper Yediot Aharonot published excerpts on Monday of an impassioned letter to Mr. Netanyahu from Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was held captive by Hamas in Gaza for five years and released in a lopsided prisoner exchange in 2011.

"'At this time, I cannot help but feel the great pain of Jonathan Pollard, who has been sitting in prison for about 29 years — more than five times the length of time I spent in captivity, and in the United States, our great friend,' Mr. Shalit wrote, adding, 'I am asking you to make it clear to the Americans that before anything else, Jonathan Pollard must go free.'"

Quoting Israeli officials Haaretz reports that the U.S. is floating a deal in which they release Pollard and the Israelis continue the release of Palestinian prisoners and freeze "most settlement construction."

The Christian Science Monitor has a grim view of what this means for Mid-East talks: "When Pollard comes up," the paper writes, "it's a sign Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have derailed."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.