A possible coalition crisis was brewing in Israel on Tuesday over an emerging deal to continue Palestinian participation in peace talks, reports The Jerusalem Post. The deal reportedly includes an Israeli obligation to release 400 more Palestinian prisoners and a partial settlement freeze, but may also see the release of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard from American prison.
Pollard was arrested in Washington in 1985 and sentenced to life imprisonment for spying on the United States on behalf of Israel. A long list of American officials, including former CIA director James Woolsey, has called for his release on humanitarian grounds.
The reported deal mandates that talks between Israel and the Palestinians be extended into 2015 and that Pollard be released in the next two weeks. Israel would also commit to put an unofficial moratorium on settlement building for the next eight months under the agreement, though the moratorium would not extend to East Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partners spoke out against the rumored deal. But the possible deal also was criticized by Palestinian leadership.
The Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported unhappiness with the deal in Ramallah because Pollard would be released, but high-profile Palestinian prisoners such as Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Sa’adat would remain imprisoned.
Still, the Palestinian daily al-Quds reported that the deal was nearing completion and would also include the release of a fourth round of 26 Palestinian prisoners, among them 14 Arab Israelis–another hotly contested issue within the Israeli government.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will reportedly convene the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah Tuesday night to discuss the proposal.
In Israel, right-wing Knesset members from PM Netanyahu’s governing coalition protested the prisoner release. Tourism Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beytenu) said the proposed deal was a “cyanide pill” that would allow the release of murderers.
“I get goosebumps when I think of Pollard being released under such a deal,” Landau told Channel 10. “The reason they will give us Pollard is so that we can sugarcoat what is actually a cyanide pill.”
He added that releasing “murderers of such a scale” was a wrong move and bound to cause damage.
“Congressmen and the heads of the CIA support his release for humanitarian reasons,” Landau said. “His release must not be conditioned in any way on the release of despicable killers.”
Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, also of the Yisrael Beytenu party, also said he would oppose the proposal.
“The Palestinians continue to make a series of arrogant and dangerous demands, such as releasing yet more murderers, or freezing construction in the West Bank. Jonathan Pollard has nothing to do with these matters,” he said.
Shamir also asserted that the convicted spy should be released on humanitarian grounds. “We must not tie [his release] to Israel’s relations with the Palestinian Authority, and certainly not make any concessions to secure it,” he said.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) said the price Israel was asked to pay in exchange for Pollard’s release was too high.
“We all want to see Pollard come home, but not at the cost of a wholesale release of terrorists, for which we will shed lots of blood in the future,” Danon said. He threatened to quit the government if Israel went ahead with the deal, even with Pollard’s release thrown in.
PM Netanyahu met with senior Likud party members on Tuesday to explain the details of the plan and enlist their support.