JERUSALEM - The Obama administration is considering the early release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard as part of an effort to keep U.S.-backed peace talks from collapsing, according to U.S. and Israeli officials.
The acknowledgment came as Secretary of State John Kerry made an abrupt detour to the region as a standoff between Israel and the Palestinians have left the negotiations in deep peril.
Pollard’s release would be an enormous prize for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, providing President Obama with a significant chit in the U.S.-led effort to create an independent Palestinian state.
The Obama administration, like Republican and Democratic administrations before it, has publicly resisted strong Israeli lobbying to lighten Pollard’s sentence for spying for a friendly country. But Pollard’s fate was always presumed to be a potential element of any U.S.-backed solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Kerry, accompanied by U.S. mediator Martin Indyk, met with Netanyahu for four hours on Monday night, postponing a planned late-night meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He met instead with the Palestinian chief negotiator.
The main subject of Kerry’s emergency visit was how to extend peace talks after an impasse was reached over the overdue release of Palestinian prisoners.