Nearing the homestretch of his seven-year presidency, Shimon Peres has announced that he will devote the balance of his term in office to try to obtain the release of Jonathan Pollard, the convicted spy who has been serving a life imprisonment in the United States sentence for over 27 years.
What could Peres do in his remaining months in office to secure Pollard’s release? Some would say that there’s nothing he could do that has not already been tried.
Here’s what Peres can do. And only he could do it.
Peres can ask to address a joint session of Congress, and here is what he should say:
Ladies and Gentlemen of this most esteemed institution, I have requested the opportunity to address this joint session of Congress in order to deliver personally a message from the entire people of Israel.
As the President, I do not represent any political party. The tradition of the Israeli Presidency is that the president serves as the advocate for those issues as to which there is a consensus among the Israeli people.
One of the issues on which the Israeli people is united is our desire to attain the freedom of an American citizen who committed a crime many years ago but who has served an exceedingly long prison term. I am, of course, referring to Jonathan Pollard.
Pollard has been in a federal prison since 1985. He committed a crime that justified a substantial prison term. Mr. Pollard spied against the United States on behalf of my country. When Mr. Pollard was arrested in 1985, I was serving as the Israeli Prime Minister – the head of state.
I was, in a certain sense, Mr. Pollard’s ultimate boss.
He committed a crime that my government and I never should have authorized. It was one of the greatest mistakes that I made in my career, and I want to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to the people of the United States and to the government of the United States for the mistake made many years ago.
As you know, there are a number of countries that are sworn to the destruction of the State of Israel. As a result, the possibility of obtaining intelligence concerning those countries has always been a priority of the State of Israel. For us, maintaining superior intelligence is sometimes an obsession.
At the same time, we all realize that the United States is the best friend that Israel has. That has been the case for decades. I knew that back in 1985, as did my colleagues in the Israeli government. Looking back, our decision to attempt to obtain intelligence concerning our enemies, by engaging a spy in the US, was a severe mistake.
There is no question that any person who commits espionage must be punished severely. That rule applies with full force to Mr. Pollard.
But Pollard has served more than 27 years in prison.
Near the conclusion of the Presidency of Bill Clinton, at a time when Pollard had served fifteen years in prison, appeals were made to President Clinton to pardon Mr. Pollard. Similarly, in late 2008 and in early 2009, near the end of the Presidency of George W. Bush, appeals were made to President Bush to pardon Mr. Pollard.
Both President Clinton and President Bush were and are friends of the State of Israel. Therefore, there are some in my country who did not understand how two good friends of the State of Israel could refuse to extend a pardon to Mr. Pollard.
I think I know why those two presidents did not extend a pardon. I think it has more to do with the government of Israel than it has to do with Mr. Pollard himself.
I believe that there are those in this country who believe that, if Mr. Pollard were to be released from prison, Israeli governments would consider once again spying against the United States. I wish to address that concern, and what I am about to say could probably be said by no other Israeli politician.
As I mentioned earlier, I was Prime Minister in the mid-1980s when Mr. Pollard was arrested. In 1992, I became Foreign Minister under the Labor-led government, and I served as Prime Minister again in the middle of the 1990s. In 2001, I joined the government of Ariel Sharon, as Foreign Minister. Mr. Sharon was, at that time, the head of the Likud party, and he too led a national unity government. I joined Prime Minister Sharon in 2005 in founding a centrist Israeli party, called Kadima, which led the governments that served from 2006 through 2009. I have served as President from 2007 through the present. I have served in various capacities under national unity governments, under Labor-led governments, and under a Kadima-led government.
No other person in Israel has been directly involved in the foreign policy establishment of the State of Israel than I over the past three decades. I assure you that Israel stopped spying on the United States in 1985, and I give you the word of the Israeli Presidency that my country will never again spy on its friend the United States.
I hope that the assurance that I have given you here today will put to rest any concern that releasing Mr. Pollard might result in the resumption of spying by the State of Israel on its friend the United States.
But if my assurance is insufficient, I wish to make a different proposal – a proposal that probably is unlike any that has ever been made in the history of diplomacy. I offer to switch places with Mr. Pollard. I am 90 years old. I have lived as a free man all my life. I have travelled the world and have been blessed by, among other things, having been chosen as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mr. Pollard has been in prison since he was in his mid-thirties. He has served more than 27 years in prison.
Mr. Pollard is serving a prison term for my mistake and that of my government. Some of my colleagues from that government are no longer with us. Those who are still alive are not in public office.
It seems that I am the only person who could come to this esteemed institution and make the plea that I am making.
I hope that my sincerity is evident. I am essentially saying that, if there is still some belief in the United States that Israel has not learned its lesson from the Pollard affair, then by my taking the place of Mr. Pollard in prison, that belief should be shattered.
I appeal to every member of Congress – regardless of your political party – to share with President Obama your views concerning the sincerity of the message that I have shared with you today.
I am fully aware of the fact that only the President decides on pardons. If I have not convinced you that Israel is genuinely sorry for the Pollard affair, then I cannot expect you to do anything. But if I have convinced you of our sincerity, then I ask you to please ask President Obama to take one of the two actions that I have suggested – either release Mr. Pollard, or substitute his boss in that prison, in place of Mr. Pollard.
Thank you very much.”
Most readers are probably thinking that it is inconceivable that Shimon Peres would offer to take the place of Jonathan Pollard. But the only thing more inconceivable is the idea that, if Peres were to make such offer, Barak Obama would do nothing.