Thinking Outside The Box: An Obama Initiated Barghouti-Pollard Swap

Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA Weekly Commentary - January 22, 2009

President Obama wants to show the region that he is hitting the floor running and phone calls just won't suffice.

PA head Mahmoud Abbas sorely needs something to bolster his standing among Palestinians.

And with the very real possibility that a prisoner trade is in the offing to gain the release of Shalit and that Hamas will ultimately control reconstruction efforts in Gaza, Abbas can be expected to fall further behind Hamas.

Many Israelis have advocated the release of Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti from Israeli prison where he is serving for the murder of Israelis as a move to help Abbas and the "moderates".

But even if one accepts that Barghouti has the potential to help Abbas and Fatah, such a move would be counterproductive if it took place in a vacuum.

If simply released, Barghouti would instantly transform from the ostensibly squeaky clean revolutionary to yet another Israeli pawn.

The release of Barghouti, therefore, has to be part of a swap of such magnitude that it is clear that Israel agreed only because it had no choice.

And this without setting a precedent that Israel can be forced by America to act against its interests.

A Pollard-Barghouti trade would solve this problem.

It creates a trade that shows just how much Israel did not want to release the Palestinian murderer. And this without putting Abbas in a position that he has to deliver something that in trade that would undermine his standing at this stage.

Jonathan Pollard has said frequently that he does not want to be traded for a murderer.

But it's not his call.

He is now more than a pawn in this game.

President Obama's team has no doubt prepared a laundry list of gestures and initiatives for the Middle East. But all of them are either recycled from previous administrations or will get bogged down in details before they are ever implemented.

A Pollard-Barghouti trade requires only a phone call and his signature on a pardon.