Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Should Pollard Be Released?

by Elliott Abrams
April 1, 2014


 I’m one of the many people, including former officials like George Shultz, who think Jonathan Pollard should be released. Given the nature of his crime, 30 years is enough or more than enough.

Yet I’m not enthusiastic about the linkage to the “peace process,” for several reasons.

First, if as I believe he ought to be released now, that decision should be made on grounds of justice and humanitarian treatment and not dependent on extraneous factors.

Second, isn’t it a bit odd—or repellent—to say that we will release an Israeli spy if Israel will release some murderers?  I do not believe we should be pressuring Israel to release convicted terrorists, because we don’t do that ourselves. What’s the moral basis, anyway, for pressuring Israel to release convicted killers?

Third, this sets a very bad precedent. We’ve released spies over the years when their terms were legally up, or to exchange for people we badly wanted released from foreign prisons—usually Americans jailed for spying. Now we are going to release someone who spied on America in order to free foreign terrorists? The most you can say for this move is that we would achieve a political goal, which in this case is to keep the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks going. But linking such releases to political goals is a dangerous precedent. Where does it stop? What are the limiting principles?

Fourth, what are we getting for this release of a spy? We are keeping PLO Chairman and Palestinian President Abbas at the negotiating table for a while, maybe a year. Nice. What happens next year? This situation exists only because of Secretary Kerry’s inexplicable confidence in his own ability to get the “peace process” moving. He plunged in, saying the goal was a peace treaty. That goal was unreachable, so he climbed down to the goal of a “framework agreement.” That was unreachable, so he climbed down to just keeping Abbas at the table. That was unreachable without more Israeli prisoner releases, so now Kerry wants to trade Pollard for those releases. What will he want next year when Abbas threatens to leave the table again?

Pollard’s release is right or it is wrong, and in my view it is right. If he ought not to be released the President should not commute his sentence to get foreign terrorists out of prison and rescue (briefly, anyway) Kerry’s bacon. If he ought to be released, do it and don’t link it these political considerations.

Post a Comment 26 Comments

  • Posted by Victor Hoffman

    I substantially agree with the perspective and points raised in Elliot Abrams post. I would just like to point out that the 400 Palestinian prisoners slated for release are reported, at least in the Israeli press, not to be prisoners with “blood on their hands.”

  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    Thanks for the comment. I believe that the 400 additional prisoners being demanded do not have blod on their hands, as you say.But those who were to be released Saturday, in the last tranche of the deal made months ago, include many who have killed Israelis.

  • Posted by ah

    I believe you mean “Fourth, what are we getting for this release of a spy? We are keeping Israel at the negotiating table for a while, maybe a year.” Not Abbas.

    As, despite your protestations to the contrary, as usual, the issue is not getting the Palestinians to negotiate, it is getting Israel to pretend that it actually wants to give up its colonial projects in the region and pretend it actually prefers a peace process to ethnic cleansing.

  • Posted by Adam

    Ah, that is nonsense. It is the Palestinian decision to go the UN route that will scupper any chance for a bilateral agreement, and therefore, quite logically, it is Abbas that Kerry seeks to keep at the table, and not Netanyahu. It is also Abbas who has placed preconditions on the talks, again and again. So he is the one that everyone has tried to get to and keep at the table.

    Let’s face it: the talks are at an impasse. Maybe Abrams’ point that Palestinian state-building is the better road forward is right. It seems Fatah will not be able to deliver a stable peace whatever is agreed, because Palestinian leaders are more interested in stuffing their pockets than helping their people.

  • Posted by Sheila

    I agree with every word in this blog.

    I am afraid that “ah” has written nonsense, and that he probably knows it.

  • Posted by R_Hawkes

    Ah, if Israel preferred ‘ethnic cleansing’ why would they want the Palestinians to leave the negotiating table and go to the UN? Even if they were acting in bad faith, they have no incentive to have the negotiations stop. They would not need an inducement to continue negotiating for a year as it maintains a status quo they are quite capable of surviving (and thriving) with.

  • Posted by EMT

    This is an another “diplomatic” attempt of the Obama Administration, believing that it can please the Jews and particularly the Arabs, as it did not succeed with the Arab Spring, and Egypt in particular, where the Administration clearly supported the Muslim Brotherhood, against Mubarak, in accordance to Obama’s Cairo speech. In fact the Palestinians have no right to an additional state, as the British already gave 77% of the entire Palestinian territory to an Arab State – Jordan. Kerry’s involvement is a new attempt to find a solution that has no basis. The whole world knows that the West Bank and the Golan Heights have been Jewish territory for centuries. How many more Arab states need to be created to satisfy the Arabs?
    Proof that the so-called Palestinians are not an independent entity is that they cannot make a move without the Arab League.
    In all Arab Lands Jews have lived for centuries and have never claimed statehood. They have been expelled or faced with economic sanctions, just like they do it today to the Christians in the Arab countries, such as recently in Egypt where churches have been destroyed and many people killed. The Jews have left their property in the Arab lands, that is worth much more than the West Bank.

    It is unfair to even suggest linking Pollard’s release with the deal that the US is trying to push to satisfy the Arabs. How could the US take the responsibility to secure Israel, after we saw what happened in Gaza, after Israel followed the advice of the US and relinquished Gaza – to whom – to the same “Palestinians” who where quickly overturned by Hamas.

  • Posted by MT

    EMT, your comments are the best yet published on the issue. I strongly agree. In addition, no matter what Abbas states or underwrites Gaza will not support that agreement. It was stated so many times before. Abbas’s PA and Gaza are enemies. So who’s signature will protect Israeli’s future peace? Meaningless

  • Posted by diana

    To Elliot, friends and foes alike:

    We are now slowly (or rapidly) becoming energy independent (=fracking). In the past the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was somehow dependent on our or Europe’s need for oil. So, Saudi Arabia had a lot to say to our State Department..

    WHAT KIND OF ISSUES AREwe, as a nation, HIDING BEHIND THIS CONFLICT? Why is every administration making of the most importance a policy to force Israel into untenable situacion?Wars are based on economic issues. Why is this regional conflict were Israel has had to fight continuously, an issue that seems to be of the foremost importance to the USA. (yes, the Jewish vote).
    There is Ukraine, Syria, Pakistan and its nukes, chaos in Egypt……no, no, no, the Israeli-Palestinian issue is most important. And you have to push tribal peace upon people that have no sense of being a nation (meaning the Arabs).
    I think it’s a canard. We, as a nation, are hiding behind the skirts of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. WHAT ARE WE HIDING?

  • Posted by Dr. Jossef Perl

    I spoke with Elliott Abrams after an AIPAC meeting in Dallas and expressed dismay about the silence from AIPAC and the American Jewish community in general, regarding the release of Jonathan Pollard after 30 years in jail. Since then it has been gratifying to read a few articles by Elliot Abrams in support of commuting Pollard’s sentence. Thank you!

  • Posted by Dr. Clifton Sherrill

    As far as not linking the release to Israeli-Palestinian issues, I agree with EA. However, I do not understand why we should even consider releasing a traitor. This man not only broke the law, he violated his sworn pledge and duty to country. In demanding money for his “service” he revealed himself as nothing more than a criminal. This traitor should have received the death penalty; that he is eligible for parole at any point is disappointing.

  • Posted by Gary Katz

    Ah, what “ethnic cleansing?” Do you mean the only ethnic cleansing in which the population being “cleansed” increased? Also, how do you “colonize” your own land? Is that like Native Americans colonizing North America? Since the Arabs came along centuries after the Jews, aren’t the Arabs the colonists? Didn’t the Arabs attempt to ethnically cleanse Israel of Jews when they attacked with 5 armies in 1948? What do your comments have to do with the article anyway? Just in the mood to launch a diatribe against the one (tiny) Jewish nation in the world?

  • Posted by EMT

    It’s nice to see that some of you, without counting Elliott Abrams, whose views I value a lot, recognize the facts and take a positive attitude. I feel that I have to enlighten those who do not know what WWII was like, who do not know the Arabs or the Europeans first hand. I have lived those times, with both the Arabs and the Europeans and I speak several languages. I regret to say that alas, my Jewish brothers don’t have the courage to react when they see things or hear words directed against the Jews or Israel.

  • Posted by ah

    Let’s see, where to begin:

    Adam – wrong, if Abbas were they one they were trying to keep at the table, they would not be offering to release an Israeli spy. These decisions to go the UN route (this time around) were a direct response to Israel refusing to release the next batch of prisoners. As for preconditions, both sides have been pretty adamant about placing preconditions that will not be fulfilled.

    As for state-building, that has been done for years and years now, and time and time again, it is Israeli actions that prevents the state from being truly built (blocking telecomms, slowing imports and exports, checkpoints, confiscating land, removing access to water and resources, etc etc etc, old news). Your comment on corruption is also rather apropos considering Olmert’s recent guilty verdict….

    Sheila – you contributed nothing to the conversation.

    R_Hawkes – They do not want Palestinians to go to the UN, but they honestly don’t really care, as they have the upper hand in all negotiations or non-negotiations, so in any action they make, they can continue with the status quo, which you pointed out correctly.

    Gary Katz – Surely you don’t actually believe the nonsense you are spouting. You “colonize” land by setting up settlements in the West Bank, its a simple equation. In no international law does this land belong to Israel, despite your Zionist dreams to the contrary. As for the relevance, clearly you should a) re-read the article, and b) re-read history

    EMT – come on, even you know there is a big difference between disliking Israeli policy and directing words against Jews. You are too well thought out to fall into this line of argument i.e. anything criticism of Israel is due to latent anti-Semitism.

  • Posted by Adam

    Ah – spare me the sophistry. Releasing Pollard is a means to keep Abbas at the table by enabling a Palestinian prisoner release. Israel is not refusing to negotiate, It is refusing to abide by Abbas terms to negotiate. It is breaking a deal to release prisoners which Abbas insisted on in order for him to negotiate in the first place. Israel’s refusal to release the last batch is Abbas’ excuse to leave the table. Israel wants to keep negotiating and Israel is not refusing to keep negotiating, but it wants to negotiate without preconditions which is what it has said all along. Unlike the PA, Israel has no preconditions in place for starting or continuing talks. The PA had to be ‘paid off’ to come to the table, not Israel.

  • Posted by ah

    I’ll spare you sophistry, but I won’t spare you rational thought. Everything you say is just plain absurd. Israel has and is and will continue to refuse to negotiate, as it holds all the cards, continues to take all the land, and knows that at the end of the day, it can blame the failure on those those pesky Palestinians who keep demanding such things as human rights, dignity and a right to work and live on their own land. How dare they.

    Israel has set absurd conditoins from the start – Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state (which is a bit like asking the Ukrainians to recognize Crimea as a “Russian” state, as they invade), they must give up the right of return, they must give up Jerusalem as the capital… the list goes on and on.

    The only thing clear throughout the process which any rational individual recognizes is that Israel has no desire to make peace and is only at the table because they have been dragged kicking and screaming and with their pockets being stuffed with enticements the whole way there.

    Come on Adam, you clearly have sufficient intellectual capacity to recognize that the biggest hindrance to peace in this entire process is Netanyahu himself, who wants to have Palestinian cake, and eat it too and continue to take as much of the cake from the PA’s mouth as possible to make a feasible Palestinian state impossible.

  • Posted by Bruce Ackman

    ah – You must be deliberatly misunderstanding many facts to twist your argument so clearly against the truth.

    The Israeli wish for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people has never been a precondition to negotiations. It is an Israeli position that Israel says must be included in any final agreement. Israel has offered many times to negotiate with the Palestinians, only to have Abbas refuse to sit down until his demands are met. That is a precondition. The same goes for Jerusalem and the “right of return”.

    I’m sure you’ll take issue with my quotations around that last phrase, but it is a right no other refugee group in history has ever had. Why should the Palestinians have it?

    What enticements has Israel ever been offered to negotiate? The release of Pollard? If that was an enticement to negotiate, Israel would not be pressured to release murderers in exchange for Pollard’s release.

    Do you actually believe the stuff you write?

  • Posted by Adam

    “Do you actually believe the stuff you write?”

    The same thought has crossed my mind occasionally when debating ah. I guess sometimes for some people, winning an argument takes precedence over facts.

    Apropos, Palestinian preconditions:


  • Posted by Carl Scott

    With few exceptions Ah is the only person seemingly not beholden to their fact free cognitive dissonance a feeeling in their stomachs! Fact is israel the bright shining star of the mideast is an undeclared nuclear power, fighting an undeclared war against their neighbours, using the most advanced weaponry, chem weapons are used. They have imprisoned a whole population of people. they imprison children and are known to to torture them like adults! Assasinations on foreign soil israel breaks a mirriad of international rules and conventions. Ofcourse israel want their traitor back! The zionists are at the helm and the israeli population are not on deck and dont recognise the dangers!! A facist state or a Military with a state Israel scares me..
    Carl Scott

  • Posted by aziz

    Double standard by all means.
    Do u care for the USA OR Israel!

  • Posted by ah

    Yes Carl Scott!

    Nice to finally have any ally on this board who actually has an understanding of world politics and is not a blind servant to the Israeli-peddled narrative of the perpetually victimized Jew fighting for democracy in the tiny innocent state of Israel surrounded by irrational murderous a-rabs.

    Bruce – go back and actually read my argument (or learn how to read for that matter)

    Adam – you’ve already proven that you just read and regurgitate the arguments straight from the IDF Hasbara department, so I do understand how you find it “hard to believe” the stuff I write, because it is composed of a concept which you are not familiar with – facts and logic.

  • Posted by ah

    Some more “sophistry” (aka facts) for Adam

    “Instead of agreeing to fulfill its own pledge to release the last batch of Palestinian prisoners, and make realistic proposals in the peace talks, the Israelis are adopting a pre-emptive sports strategy: the best defense is a good offense. In reality, however, the attacks against the Palestinian leadership and negotiators do not hold water, and the one party that counts, the Americans, knows that well, even while publicly placing blame on both sides.”

  • Posted by ah

    And some more just for you Adam (and nearly everyone else on this board regurgitating words directly from the mouths of the Israel PR agency…)

    “While Mr. Kerry said both sides bore responsibility for “unhelpful” actions, the precipitating event, he said, was Israel’s announcement of 700 new housing units for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem. That came three days after a deadline passed for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners, and it undercut an emerging deal to extend the negotiations.”

    And history repeats itself, Israel intentionally destroying peace talks, and then blaming the Palestinians.


  • Posted by Neville Craig

    I tend to agree that Pollard has done enough ‘time’. But traitors are traitors, and would have been given harsher terms elsewhere

    Israel is a master of putting its own interests first, such as the decision to abstain on the crucial UN vote about condemning Russia’s Crimean grab. The US has no ‘permanent friends’.

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