The United States is set to free convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard to save the so-called peace talks between Palestinian Authority (PA) and Tel Aviv, reports in the Israeli news media say.
With the talks on the brink of collapse, US officials have offered to release Pollard, 59, as a carrot to Israel to break the deadlock over a scheduled release of Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails, Israeli army radio reported on Wednesday.
Pollard, a former US Navy analyst, was arrested in 1985 for providing Israel thousands of classified American documents. In 1987, a US court sentenced him for life in prison. Washington has so far rejected repeated Israeli appeals for his freedom.
Citing Israeli officials, the radio said the offer was made as part of a deal between Washington and Tel Aviv which would guarantee that Israel releases a fourth tranche of Palestinian prisoners to restart direct talks between the PA and the regime in Tel Aviv.
The prisoners are scheduled to get released on March 29, but Israel is backtracking on the issue. The US is struggling to extend the April 29 deadline for the resumption of the talks with Palestinian officials saying that if the prisoners are not released, there will be no extension.
Citing US officials, the Israeli radio cautioned that American President Barack Obama was not guaranteed to agree to the release of Pollard. Obama has rebuffed several pleas from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to free Pollard.
Meanwhile, the US State Department said in a statement that there were "no plans" to release Pollard.
"Jonathan Pollard was convicted of espionage against the United States, a very serious crime, was sentenced to life in prison, and is serving his sentence," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “There are currently no plans to release Jonathan Pollard.”
Israel has recently freed dozens of Palestinian prisoners, as part of a deal for the resumption of the talks with the PA, but it has also announced plans to build thousands of more illegal settlement units on the occupied Palestinian land.
Palestinian officials have repeatedly said that there will be no direct talks with Israel if Tel Aviv keeps on expanding illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
In November last year, a large number of Palestinians from different political movements took to the streets of the West Bank city of Ramallah to call on the PA to pull out from the talks with Israel.
Supporters of all Palestinian factions, including the Islamic resistance movement Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, gathered in central Arafat square to protest against the talks.
The protesters said the talks are useless and Mahmoud Abbas, the acting Palestinian Authority chief, must withdraw from the negotiations.
They also demanded the PA take the regime in Tel Aviv to the International Criminal Court for its crimes against the people of Palestine.
The presence and continued expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine has created a major obstacle for the efforts to establish peace in the Middle East.