The one issue in which the differences between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama appears most stark is the fate of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard. Netanyahu would like Obama to commute Pollard’s life sentence to the more than 27 years he has served.
This is what Obama had to say about Pollard in an interview with Channel 2 last Thursday: “This is an individual who committed a very serious crime here in the United States. He has been serving his time. There is a justice system that allows for periodic review of his sentence and the potential for him ultimately being released; and the way, you know, I as president function here is to try and make sure that I am following the basic rules of that review.
“I have no plans for releasing Jonathan Pollard immediately, but what I am going to be doing is to make sure that he, like every other American who has been sentenced, is accorded the same kinds of review and the same examination of the equities that any other individual would provide. I recognize the emotions involved in this. One of the strengths of the Israeli people is that you think about your people wherever they are. And I recognize that. I am sympathetic.
“I think that people have to understand that as the president, my first obligation is to observe the law here in the US and to make sure that it is applied consistently. As you know that there are a lot of individuals in prisons in the United States who have committed crimes who would love to be released early as well. I’ve got to make sure that every individual is treated fairly and equal.”
There are three main problems with what Obama said about Pollard, which Netanyahu might have pointed out if he was not doing his best to get along with the president.
The first is that Pollard is suffering from failing health and multiple ailments that require urgent medical treatment and proper nutrition, neither of which are available to him in prison. Should Pollard die in prison under Obama’s watch, it would deal a devastating blow to the president’s goal of improving his image among Israelis.
“Every day that he survives now is miraculous,” Pollard’s wife, Esther, said. “He is 58 but he is the physical equivalent of a 70- or 80- year-old because he went though seven years of solitary confinement, each of which is the equivalent of multiple years because of the harsh conditions and stress.”
The second problem is that the “periodic review” Obama referred to is a parole procedure that, due to key legal reasons, does not apply to Pollard. Assuming he lives until then, Pollard is technically eligible to request parole in November 2015, on the 30th anniversary of his arrest.
But parole is not relevant for Pollard because his judge, his prosecutor and the government are on record in his sentencing docket as emphatically denying early release at any date, making it certain he will be refused.
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