Jonathan Pollard: Why Israel wants him free, why the U.S. doesn’t, and what might happen next
Why Israel wants him free
To his supporters in Israel and those elsewhere, there are a number of key factors in the case that support releasing Pollard. For one thing, while Pollard has admitted he handed over a huge amount of documents to Israel, he has argued that he did it out of an idealistic loyalty to Israel (an American ally, of course), not malice, and that the information was about Arab states, Pakistan, and the Soviet Union, not the United States.
Why the U.S. doesn't want him free
Many in the U.S. intelligence community feel strongly that Pollard should not be released: In 1998 George J. Tenet, then director of the CIA, apparently scuppered a deal with Israel on Pollard by threatening to resign if the spy went free.
There have been a number of arguments that Pollard's spying was actually far more damaging than others care to admit. For example, in 1999 Seymour Hersh wrote an article for the New Yorker that argued Pollard's information may have ended up with Soviet Union. Hersh spoke to experts who said that the information was used:
... in exchange for continued Soviet permission for Jews to emigrate to Israel. Other officials go further, and say that there was reason to believe that secret information was exchanged for Jews working in highly sensitive positions in the Soviet Union. A significant percentage of Pollard’s documents, including some that described the techniques the American Navy used to track Soviet submarines around the world, was of practical importance to the Soviet Union.
What's happening now (and what might happen next)
Over the past few years the Israeli campaign to release Pollard has grown momentum, with Netanyahu expressing official support, a number of petitions, and protests outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. President Obama has so far refused to contemplate releasing Pollard and has refused to grant him leave for family emergencies.
The biggest factor now, however, is the Middle East peace process which Secretary of State John F. Kerry launched eight months ago. The hope appears to be that if the United States agreed to released Pollard, Israel might agree to release some of a large number of Palestinian prisoners or impose a moratorium on new building in disputed territories, key sticking points for the Palestinian negotiators.