An American currently in prison for spying for Israel could walk free after nearly 30 years in jail as part of a U.S.-brokered deal to save the Israel-Palestine peace talks this week. Jonathan J. Pollard was imprisoned in the U.S. on a life sentence in 1987 for passing classified information to Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent Monday evening developing a tentative deal to keep the troubled peace talks open into 2015.
U.S. officials haven't yet confirmed the tentative agreement, although as the LA Times notes, officials "conspicuously declined to comment" when asked about the possibility of Pollard's release, based on multiple reports indicating that the matter was once again on the negotiation table. The possibility of Pollard's release has been something Israel has long-sought, but hawks in America have refused to consider.
Until recently, it was seen as politically impossible in the U.S. — CIA Director George Tenet threatened to resign when President Clinton considered the case in the midst of Mideast peace talks. So what's changed between 1998 and now? For one thing, federal sentencing guidelines mean that Pollard goes up for parole in mid-November 2015. If the tentative agreement goes through as reported, Pollard would be free by Passover of this year, April 14.
But the U.S. isn't the only party throwing some concessions on the table in order to keep the recently-stalled talks going. The possible Pollard release could be an attempt to urge Israel to release a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners (including 14 Israeli citizens of Arab descent), promised at the beginning of talks last year. That stalled release — the group was supposed to walk free by last weekend — was one of two major factors threatening to derail the peace negotiations. The second? Israel's demand that Palestine recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
According to Reuters and the New York Times, the tentative agreement also includes the release of 400 other Palestinian prisoners, and a "freeze" on settlement building in some portions of the West Bank. The Israeli settlements, deemed illegal by much of the international community, are on land that Palestine would like to use to build its own state. Portions of the Kerry-Netanyahu deal would need the approval of the White House, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, and the Israeli Parliament in order to become a finalized agreement.