Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered to extend a freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank–a key sticking point with Palestinians in peace talks–if the U.S. will free Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, who has been in custody since 1987. Israeli Army radio says Netanyahu offered to extend the moratorium for three months in exchange for Pollard; however, U.S. intelligence is likely to nix any such deal. Meanwhile, Haaretz says that the U.S. is concerned peace talks will fall apart in the coming days over the settlement issue.
According to the Guardian:
According to Israel’s army radio, the prime minister’s office has approached Washington with a deal to continue the moratorium for another three months in return for the release of Jonathan Pollard, a former navy intelligence analyst convicted of spying in 1987. Binyamin Netanyahu, has long pressed for Pollard to be freed, but winning his release would help him sell concessions to rightwing members of his cabinet and the settlers.
Army radio said that Netanyahu had asked an unnamed intermediary to sound out the Obama administration on the proposal, but it is not known what response was received. Other Israeli media reported that the prime minister dispatched the intermediary to approach the Americans “discreetly, and unofficially”.
Netanyahu’s office initially said: “We know of no query to the Americans on this matter”, but later was more equivocal. Israeli officials dismissed the prospect of a deal for Pollard’s release over such a short time frame but, given that Netanyahu has attempted to attach the convicted spy’s freedom to earlier peace talks, it is likely that the issue is being broached.
Danny Dayan, head of the Yesha Council of Jewish settlers, condemned any proposal to swap Pollard for an extension of the settlement freeze: “The very idea is an ugly form of blackmail. Should we also agree to give up the Golan Heights in exchange for Gilad Shalit [an Israeli soldier held by Hamas in Gaza]?”
However, any deal is likely to meet stiff resistance from US intelligence which has previously scuppered plans to free Pollard. Netanyahu has said Israel does not plan to extend the moratorium on settlement building, and officials are not commenting on how the issue might be resolved, saying only that Israel “does not want people leaving the table”.