Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bibi, don't negotiate for Pollard

The Jewish world seems to be getting quite excited about the rumour that the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is asking for Jonathan Pollard to be freed as part of the new freeze deal.

Well, I'm not excited and can't understand those who are. I don't think this is something Bibi should be asking for, at least not in the context of these negotiations.

Now don't get me wrong; if Jonathan Pollard were freed from prison tomorrow, I would be perfectly happy for him (although I think he has done himself no favors, making it virtually impossible for an American president to pardon him by turning himself into a cause celebre, and with his politically ill-judged pronouncements). While he did commit a crime, the sentence was clearly too severe and after 25 years for a crime which typically carries a 10-year jail term, he deserves to be free.

However, I don't think that he should be freed as part of negotiations which involve Israel's long-term strategic interests. In return for a sacrifice that has serious implications for Israel's future - giving up building in its settlements - Israel needs to ask for serious things that will give it strategic advantages in the region and in the peace process. Jonathan Pollard may be a worthy cause, but he is not a strategic asset. His freedom will not help protect Israel from the multiple threats it faces.

So by all means, campaign for Jonathan Pollard's freedom. But ask for it as a correction to an injustice, a mercy which should be done for its own sake; do not inject the issue into the negotiations for Israel's future. The two have nothing to do with each other.

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