John Kerry made an unscheduled stop in Jerusalem Monday to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in hopes of reviving peace talks with Palestinian authorities. The two met for nearly two hours to discuss the Israeli terms of the peace talks that the Palestinians plan to abandon if Israel does not release a group of prisoners which include 14 of Israeli Arabs who Israel considers terrorists.
Israel, however wants the US to release Jonathan Pollard, a former US intelligence analyst who was arrested in 1987 for spying and is currently serving a life sentence. The release however, is ultimately up to President Barack Obama and is not definite. In exchange for Pollard’s possible release, Israel would discontinue building on the Palestinian settlement on the West Bank, and release the rest of the prisoners they promised to by March 29th. If Israel refuses to hold up their side of the bargain, Palestine is threatening to call off the peace talks all together, which are set to end on April 29th, and seek international recognition from the United Nations.
However, when asked to comment on Pollard’s possible release, many White House officials were hesitant to do so. During a White House press conference on Monday, Press Secretary Jay Carney said, it’s a complicated issue and declined to get into details. Furthermore, Mr. Carney said that Jonathan Pollard was convicted of spying on the United States for Israel and went on to say that he was unable to update anyone on the situation. Which is a sentiment echoed by Jen Psaki, a Spokeswoman for the State Department who said that Pollard was a convicted spy and that she doesn’t have any update on his status either.
On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority warned that if the deal does not go though, they will stop peace talks and go to the United Nations for international recognition. Mustafa Barghuti, the Palestinian MP told the associated press that, if Mr. Kerry does not give them an answer on the prisoners by Tuesday, that they would seek recognition from the United Nations.
Israel has already released three groups of prisoners which were serving long term sentences for attacks on Israelis, but the fourth group of prisoners is a sticking point because it includes several convicted of murder. Netanyahu did say that he would seek approval from cabinet members on the release of the fourth group of prisoners, but the cabinet has been critical of the release of the other three groups.
In November of next year, Pollard is up for parole, and the time for the state Department to use him to “sweeten the deal” with Israel is running out. And while some far-right members of Netanyahu’s administration oppose the release of more prisoners, however, if the United States were to release Pollard, it would ease their concerns.
Netanyahu however said that he will not release any more prisoners unless the Palestinians continue peace talks and not seek UN recognition. Throughout the negotiations, Mr. Kerry has remained quiet on the status of the prisoner issues saying that it would be inappropriate for there to be any kind of speculation because ultimately it is up to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Palestinians to decide what they want to do going forward.
By Nathaniel Pownell