Yesterday the internet was alive with reports that the U.S. would announce that it would soon release Jonathan Pollard, the American spy for Israel who has served 27 years for giving the Israelis a container full of secret documents he got as a Navy analyst.
News of a “breakthrough” began popping up around social media yesterday morning. It was fed by this story from Al-Arabiya:
A deal has been reached between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to extend US-brokered peace talks, according to Middle Eastern news outlet Al-Arabiya.
As part of the deal, Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard is to be freed from his 27-year detention in the US while the contentious fourth set of Palestinian prisoners are to be released.
Jeffrey Goldberg at first poured water on the reports, then seemed to feed them himself:
Big things just may be happening today on the Middle East peace front.
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) April 10, 2014
Ma’an said it wasn’t true:
“There was no agreement on anything, and despite all American efforts regarding the prisoners no agreement was not reached,” the source added.
He denied claims of the possibility of exiling Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal to secure their release…
The conflicting reports come amid a growing crisis in the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu called for an end to coordination with Palestinian officials after the PLO decided to apply to join 15 international conventions.
The State Department also denied that anything was afoot at the briefing yesterday afternoon. You’ll see that Jen Psaki’s answer echoes Jay Carney at the White House a few days ago, “No decision has been made.”
QUESTION: When you say you’re narrowing the gaps, what gaps? What are you actually physically trying to do?… [D]o these include the prisoners, the prisoner issue?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of issues that are being discussed. Certainly, that’s one of them. There are other topics I’m not going to go into greater detail on that have been out there.
QUESTION: And is the release of Jonathan Pollard among those other topics?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of topics. I’m not going to detail it further….
QUESTION: — their sources or their reports insist that the deal includes the swap of prisoners, the 30 prisoners that were supposed to be released on the 23rd of – on the 29th of March, another 400 prisoners, but also they insist that Jonathan Pollard is part of the deal. [Ed: it is not clear who is meant by “they”] Could you say or could you tell us or could you deny flatly that he is not part of the deal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, nothing has changed. No decision has been made about Jonathan Pollard. That’s the same as it was last week. And I just made very clear that these reports are premature.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, would the Palestinians have to, let’s say, resend their applications or cancel their applications or call them back with the UN agencies for the talks to continue, or no?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to go into that level of detail, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. But would you say that the Israelis now are either reconciled to this fact that this is done and there is no backtracking by the Palestinians or backpedaling in this case?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Israelis of what they would or wouldn’t feel comfortable with. Obviously, there are a range of issues being discussed, including the Palestinians’ recent steps, including their desire for prisoners to be released, including a range of issues. But I’m not going to go into further detail.
QUESTION: Only if you would indulge me for a second. Now, what does that do to the framework agreement or the 29thof April deadline? I mean, if they decide to go on beyond, so we continue doing the same thing, or is there going to be some sort of an announcement on the 29th that we have covered this period now, the nine-month period and we’re going to another six months or another nine months?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t predict for you, Said. Obviously, if there’s a decision made because of steps by the parties that these talks will continue, then it would take longer than the next couple of weeks to come to a final status agreement. But we will cross that bridge when we come to it. We’re taking it one day at a time here.
Politico also is on the story, reporting: “’There is no breakthrough. All of the current rumors that a deal has been reached are false,’ a senior administration official said.”
That’s the latest for now.