Jonathan Pollard opposes being freed from U.S. jail in exchange for Palestinians prisoners, says Israeli Cabinet minister Uri Ariel

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday morning, in a bid to salvage negotiations with the Palestinians.

Mr. Kerry cut short a visit to Europe to solve a crisis in the talks, which are fast approaching an April 29 deadline, meeting Mr. Netanyahu also several hours late Monday before sitting down with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

It was not immediately clear whether he would also meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah Tuesday, before heading to the two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers which starts also on Tuesday.

Israel had been scheduled to release a fourth group of 26 Palestinian prisoners on Saturday, but did not, saying it sees no reason to free them if Mr. Abbas refuses to extend the negotiations beyond their deadline.

Mr. Kerry and his envoys on the ground have been holding intense talks with the parties in a bid to resolve the crisis.

Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Minister Issa Qaraqi said the Palestinian Authority was demanding by the end of Tuesday an unconditional Israeli agreement to free the fourth group, unrelated to the future of the peace talks.

If Mr. Kerry wanted an extension of the negotiations, there would be other requirements from Israel including a settlement freeze, the release of 1,000 other prisoners, among them some high-profile names, such as former West Bank Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, and a commitment that negotiations will be based on the 1967 borders.

Mr. Qaraqi attended a Palestinian leadership meeting in Ramallah late on Monday.

“There was a consensus in the meeting last night that unless Israel sticks to the agreement to release the fourth group of prisoners without any conditions, then the Palestinians will go to the U.N.,” he told Voice of Palestine Radio.

Senior Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) member Jamil Shehadeh said Mr. Kerry may leave on Tuesday and return again in the next few days to continue his efforts to extend the negotiations.

He said the Palestinian leadership — the executive bodies of the PLO and Mr. Abbas’ Fatah party — were scheduled to convene again on Tuesday night.

The State Department has so far publicly denied reports that Washington may release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, an American with Israeli citizenship serving life in prison, as an incentive for far-reaching Israeli concessions such as an Israeli endorsement of the lines of before the 1967 borders and the release of more jailed Palestinian militants.

‘Pollard opposes release'

A hard-line Israeli Cabinet minister says convicted spy Jonathan Pollard opposes being freed from a U.S. jail in exchange for Palestinians prisoners.

Uri Ariel says people close to Pollard have told him that he opposes such a “shameful deal”.

Mr. Ariel, from the hard-line Jewish Home party, spoke to Army Radio on Tuesday. He says he, too, is against the release of “murderers” for Pollard.

Talk of the possibility of Pollard’s early release has arisen as an incentive in the troubled Mideast peace negotiations. The idea is that if he is freed, Israel would make concessions and release more Palestinian prisoners.

Pollard was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he gave classified documents to Israeli handlers. He was arrested in 1985 and later sentenced to life in prison.

More In: World | International | News