The long-running Middle East peace negotiations are snagged over several issues, including wither Israel will agree to release more than two dozen prisoners. They include 14 Arab Israelis whom Palestinian authorities consider to be heroes and freedom fighters. Israel considers them terrorists.
Israel has already released three other groups of prisoners as part of the peace negotiations that began last July. All had served lengthy terms for involvement in attacks on Israelis, and scenes of them returning to jubilant celebrations have angered the Israeli public. A fourth batch was scheduled to be released on March 29, and the delay has prompted Palestinian authorities to threaten to end the negotiations.
Netanyahu has said he would present any additional release recommendations to his Cabinet — where approval is not guaranteed. Netanyahu's coalition is dominated by hard-liners who have been extremely critical of the previous releases. The final release is especially contentious because it is expected to include convicted murderers and Arab citizens of Israel.
Carney declined to offer details when asked about that prisoner release. "This is a complicated issue that is being worked through with the parties," he said.
Pollard is said to be in poor health. His case has become a rallying cry in Israel, where leaders say his nearly three decades in U.S. prison amounts to excessive punishment. Pollard enjoys widespread sympathy among Israelis, and Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have routinely pressed Obama and other U.S. presidents for his pardon or release.
Stiff opposition from the American military and intelligence community has deterred the White House. Intelligence officials have argued that his release would harm national security and that the U.S. must maintain a strong deterrent to allies by warning them of the consequences of spying on American soil.
But there are signs that that resolve may be softening. In recent years, former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, along with prominent figures such as Sen. John McCain and former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, have all called for Pollard's release.
Netanyahu has sought to link a Pollard release to peace talks before. During his first term as prime minister, Netanyahu pressed the issue as part of a 1998 interim deal with the Palestinians. President Bill Clinton rejected that request after fierce opposition from U.S. intelligence officials.
Also during Netanyahu's first term, in the late 1990s, Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship. While Netanyahu was out of office, he visited Pollard in prison. In 2011, Netanyahu formally appealed to the U.S. for the release and made a personal plea to allow him to attend his father's funeral. The U.S. denied those requests.
Associated Press writers Lara Jakes, Josh Lederman and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.