If the Obama administration’s latest foreign-policy foible hadn’t actually happened, you’d almost think we made it up.
The circumstances under which the White House reportedly suggested releasing Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard are almost comically misconceived: In exchange for our releasing Pollard, the White House hoped, the Israeli government would free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, which would then draw the Palestinian government to the negotiating table to resume the joint peace process. We give the Israelis back the traitor, they give the Palestinians back the terrorists, and everybody wins a Nobel prize.
The first link in this chain of inanity is bad enough: Pollard, who is eligible for parole in two years anyway, fully deserves his punishment. His defenders claim that his sentence, for selling information to the Israeli government while he was a Navy intelligence analyst, is unduly and exceptionally harsh compared with other espionage cases. This is simply not true — and wouldn’t be even if his crimes were not also exceptionally serious. The government argued in Pollard’s trial that his work amounted to one of the most serious espionage operations in American history. The fact that Pollard was bought off by an ally does nothing to reduce his perfidy, not least because he seems to have been interested in spying for substantially less friendly countries than Israel, too, including Pakistan and South Africa. Espionage is essentially the most serious non-violent crime an American can commit, and Pollard’s sentence rightly reflects that.
Moreover, any weakening of a criminal sentence — a pardon or an early parole – has to be preceded by serious contrition and forthright admissions of guilt. Pollard has only gestured at that standard, indirectly and opaquely, which is about what you’d expect from someone who has blatantly violated the plea agreement he reached with the federal government.
The larger lesson here, though, is about the Obama administration’s incompetence and foolishness. The price the White House is willing to pay to draw rogue actors into pointless negotiation is apparently almost without limit. The issues here are no different from what they are in any other conflict: We will not convince the Palestinians to adopt a position that should be a prerequisite for any deal — namely, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state — through endless engagement.
Someday, perhaps, the Palestinians will be ready to renounce their violent opposition to Israel’s existence and negotiate in good faith. Until then, the peace process can be left to rot. And so should Pollard.