A smaller item on U.S. President Barack Obama’s leaked agenda for his upcoming trip to Israel in March was a discussion on the status of American-born Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.
Pollard has been serving a life sentence since March 4, 1987, after being convicted of selling U.S. secrets to Israel. He is eligible for parole as of Nov. 21, 2015.
Israel granted Pollard citizenship in 1995, and Pollard has renounced his U.S. citizenship, which means he would be extradited to Israel if released.
The issue of Pollard’s internment remains a hot one in Israel, despite his relative anonymity in the States.
Pollard’s second wife, Esther, has been very active in the Israeli media on his behalf (Pollard divorced his first wife, Anne, after she finished serving her own prison sentence; she was convicted for helping Pollard in his work.)
Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was the first to officially ask for Pollard’s release in 1995. In 1998, Benjamin Netanyahu (during his first prime ministry) told then-U.S. President Bill Clinton he wanted a pardon for Pollard in exchange for signing a deal with former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Pollard received a personal visit from Netanyahu in 2002, when Netanyahu was not prime minister. In his next campaign in 2007, Netanyahu made Pollard’s cause part of his platform, swearing that if he became prime minister again, he would secure Pollard’s release.
Pollard even garnered a mention in former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s tome, wherein Clinton revealed he did not approve Pollard’s release because of pressure from the intelligence community.
On Tuesday, Ayelet Shaked, a member of the Knesset and the far-right Jewish Home party told reporters that she was calling on Obama to “bring back Jonathan Pollard, for he is our brother.”
Obama is scheduled to speak with Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres when the three meet on Obama’s first day in Israel, March 20, and one of the items on their agenda is rumored to be Pollard’s case. Unfortunately for the Israelis, this line of inquiry is likely to get them nowhere, but one source close to the prime minister suggested that Israel would be willing to give back as many as 550 Palestinian prisoners before Obama’s trip “to show good grace.”
Despite the rumored offer, the U.S. is likely to remain unyielding to Israel’s requests on this one, as Obama has remained obstinately silent on the issue. During a visit to the White House in March 2012, both Netanyahu and Peres told reporters they had raised the issue with Obama, but did not indicate what his response was. The next month, Peres sent Obama a letter signed by 80 Israeli legislators asking for Pollard's release, and again received no response.