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Reported Kerry-Netanyahu Deal Frees Hundreds of Palestinian Prisoners, Pollard
JERUSALEM — Israel would release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and freeze West Bank settlement building, and the United States would free Jonathan Pollard under a reported deal reached between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Kerry and Netanyahu met on March 31 and the following morning in Israel in an attempt to prevent the U.S.-backed peace negotiations from breaking down. Kerry’s visit to Israel was unplanned.
The secretary of state did not meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but Kerry is scheduled to return on April 2 to meet with him in Ramallah. Kerry left Israel on on April 1 to attend a NATO meeting in Brussels.
According to reports in the Arab media as well as by international news services, under the deal discussed by Kerry and Netanyahu, Israel would release the final group of 26 Palestinian prisoners agreed to in August as well as several hundred others. Israel also would agree to a freeze in settlement construction in the West Bank, though not eastern Jerusalem, and the freeze would be unannounced.
Meanwhile, news agencies citing “sources close to the negotiations” said Pollard, the convicted American spy for Israel serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison, could be free by Passover as part of the deal. Passover starts on the night of April 14.
The agreement is awaiting approval from Ramallah, according to Israel Radio.
Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel told Army Radio that Pollard would oppose such a deal as rumors swirled surrounding the possible release.
“I was personally told he is against being released in such a shameful deal,” said Ariel of the Jewish Home party.
A U.S. State Department official said there was no official comment on a possible Pollard release at this stage.
U.S. intelligence agencies repeatedly have opposed the release of Pollard, a former Defense Department employee who was convicted of spying for Israel in 1985 and sentenced to life in prison. He is eligible for parole in November 2015.
Israeli media are reporting that Jewish Home could leave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government over the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners — something the parallel release of Pollard is designed to prevent.
Under the reported deal, the Palestinians would agree to continue negotiations through the end of 2015 and refrain from seeking statehood recognition from international bodies.