Jerusalem – Quite a few people in Jerusalem were puzzled last week to hear that President George W. Bush had invited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to come to see him at the White House.
While formally the two men are scheduled to meet in order to discuss progress in the peace process with the Palestinians, Israeli government officials in Jerusalem are telling the local media that the meeting in question is geared to coordinate the release of the Israeli spy, Jonathan Pollard, from prison. These Israeli officials said that the outgoing president customarily grants pardons on his last day in office, and it was quite possible that Mr. Pollard’s name might be included on that list, at long last.
Israel tried to secure Mr. Pollard’s release in honor of Israel’s 60th anniversary, but met with no success.
If Mr. Bush decides to grant clemency to Mr. Pollard, this could contribute to the legacy that Mr. Olmert will be leaving in his wake.
A decision on Mr. Bush’s part to release Mr. Pollard could lay the groundwork for new relations between the next elected leaders who are going to head the United States and Israel.
Mr. Pollard, now 53, has been in prison in the United States for the past 22 years after he was convicted of spying for Israel.
No American president to date has agreed to commute his sentence. Since Mr. Olmert has himself hinted he intends to devote his last months in office to the goal of advancing further concessions to the Palestinian Liberation Organization in the hope of achieving some kind of peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, it could be that the Pollard story will serve as an appropriate distraction for the Israeli public and not on sensitive negotiations with Israel’s Arab neighbors.