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PRUDEN: Kerry’s desperation meets Palestinian intransigence in Mideast peace process

Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard shouldn’t be bargaining chip

- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 3, 2014

If John Kerry wants to live with his head in the clouds, he should stick to windsurfing. He's making a further mess of everything in the Middle East. When President Obama, who lives in fantasies wrapped in pipe dreams himself, is fully awake, he should order the secretary of state to surf on home.

Nobody plays desperation politics like the secretary of state. He wants to keep the "peace process," so-called, alive if never well, and like a desperate gambler, keeps making bad bets to cover his losses until there's no more room in the casino's safe for his growing stack of IOUs.

With the Palestinians up to their usual game, making further demands with each concession from Israel and the West, threatening to walk away from the oldest established permanent floating poker game anywhere, Mr. Kerry apparently persuaded President Obama to let him throw in the ace.

He's eager to keep the talks going when neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians think there's much point in processing more peace and cheese. He's even willing to set free an infamous prisoner serving life for betraying his country.

Jonathan Pollard is an American citizen who was a high-clearance analyst in U.S. Navy intelligence and who sold American security secrets to Israel and thought to have been passed on to unfriendly hands. He sold them not for his convictions, but for cash. He got $50,000 with promises for more, perhaps as much as $600,000 more. He has been in prison for 29 years and is eligible for parole next year.

Nevertheless, he has become a hero to some Israelis, enough of them that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli politicians support the well-organized free-Pollard movement. There's no accounting for taste, of course. Some people lionize Pollard as a national hero, patriots in other places celebrate the likes of Paul Revere and Patrick Henry.

But when news of Mr. Kerry's desperation tactic began to leak last week, Haaretz, the influential Jerusalem daily, put a warning headline over one columnist's skepticism: "Don't hug Pollard when he lands." Other Israeli voices urged politicians to stay away from the airport.

They don't want the comparison to the airport celebrations in Libya when the British, in another instance of compassion gone amok, released the organizer of the terrorism that blasted Pan Am's Flight 103 from the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. That villain, thought to have been dying, went home to a hero's welcome and lived happily in Libya ever after.

Mr. Kerry's idea was that Israel could release a hundred or so terrorists from prison, the Americans would let Pollard go, and everybody would return to the bargaining table to forge Middle East peace for our time.

A secretary of state with his feet firmly planted on the ground would have understood why this would never work. The Palestinians are not dumb, and they told Mr. Kerry that if the Israelis get a plum like Pollard, they want at least a pomegranate, perhaps Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian terrorist serving life in an Israeli prison for five murders, including a suicide bomb targeting men, women and children in a fish market.

Such a swap is not popular among some of the wise heads in Jerusalem. They understand why it would enrage many Americans, and the prospect of releasing a hundred terrorists in Israel is foolish. Many of the freed prisoners, for whom terrorism is a way of life, would soon be back to pay for new crimes. If returning to Mr. Kerry's peace talks is a good idea for Israeli security, why wait for a sweetener from Washington?

There's considerable anger in Washington over the prospect of freeing Pollard, much of it from steadfast friends of Israel. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois says Pollard "should rot in jail." Sen. John McCain supports a humanitarian release of Pollard, but thinks linking it to peace talks is "disgusting." Abraham Foxman, chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, says freedom for Pollard "should not be intertwined with the Arab-Israeli conflict."

Allies spying on each other is neither surprising nor shocking. America, as we know, spies on everybody. When Queen Victoria asked her prime minister who were England's "permanent friends," he replied: "England has no permanent friends, only permanent interests." Thus has it been forever.

What's important is competence and skill at the top of the government. This means a president who knows what he's doing, who knows when and how to play his ace in that oldest established permanent floating poker game. Without it, we all risk waking up dead.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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