We're seeing a number of stories out of Israel lately saying convicted spy Jonathan Pollard might be freed as part of a deal to get Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to honor his commitment to release the final group of 26 Palestinian prisoners (out of 104) and to keep peace talks with the Palestinians going until the end of the year.
Releasing Pollard in order to salvage the peace talks makes no sense. I doubt a single one of his hardcore supporters would change their views on establishing a Palestinian state. Some might even condemn him for selling out by being used to advance the peace talks with the Palestinians. Pollard's backers are largely on the far right, where opposition to any deal the Palestinians would sign is unlikely to change even if Pollard himself endorsed it.
Does Barack Obama, who has the power to free Pollard, really think that would make Netanyahu any more likely to cut a deal with the Palestinians?
Pollard's release would be a trophy for Netanyahu to show his fealty to the right wing, but it wouldn't change a single vote from opposition to support for the peace process. That the future of the peace talks would come down to this shows how little substance there really is to the talks.
If Pollard is to be released, it should be on the merits of the case. He has refused to seek parole, although it would be the surest path to freedom. Could that be because it would constitute an admission of guilt? Is it because he has not shown unambiguous remorse for betraying his country?
This is just the latest of many rumors over the years started by Pollard's supporters suggesting his release would magically open doors. During the 2012 presidential campaign one right wing rabbi even stated that unless Barack Obama freed Pollard he would lose the Jewish vote that year.
Releasing Pollard, whose supporters regard him as a hero, would undoubtedly cause Obama major trouble with the defense and intelligence establishment in Washington, which cannot abide a convicted spy whose supporters say was justified in his betrayal of his own country – and who has done nothing to silence those supporters.
Most Americans do not see Pollard as the hero that many Israelis do. Instead they consider him a traitor to his country who tried to justify his betrayal on grounds that he was helping Israel because the United States would not provide it the intelligence he decided it should have.