Former US president Bill Clinton said in a recent conversation with a prominent
US Jewish leader that when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu went to the Wye
River Plantation talks in 1998 with Yasser Arafat, he thought that he would
return to Israel with Jonathan Pollard, according to Israeli diplomatic
According to these sources, this is the first time Clinton has
acknowledged that Netanyahu went to the talks thinking he had Pollard’s freedom
In the end, a deal to release Pollard as part of the agreements
with Arafat was scuttled when then-CIA director George Tenet threatened to
resign if the deal went through.
The revelation by sources in Jerusalem
of a private conversation Clinton had with a Jewish leader regarding an episode
that took place more than a decade ago took on increased significance Monday
amid reports – or perhaps trial balloons – that one idea being discussed by
Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Washington regarding how to deal with the
imminent end of the settlement construction moratorium would be that Israel
would extend the moratorium if Pollard, who has been in a US prison for 25
years, were released.
Among the US officials Barak was scheduled to meet in Washington on Monday was Dennis Ross, who dealt at some
length in his memoir The Missing Peace with how the Pollard issue played out
during the Wye talks. In that book Ross, who was the US Middle East envoy at the
time, wrote that Clinton considered releasing Pollard to try to ensure that an
Israeli-PA deal would be sealed.
In the end, Ross wrote, he himself
advised Clinton against going ahead with the release when Netanyahu said he
would not sign the Wye deal without Pollard’s release.
“Did you make a
commitment to release Pollard?” Ross quoted himself as asking Clinton in the
book. “If you did, you have to release him.”
According to Ross, “The
president swore he had made no promises; he’s said he would see what he could
do, but he had made no promises.
I then said, ‘If you did not make a
promise to him, you should not give in to this.’” Officials in the Prime
Minister’s Office on Monday denied reports that Pollard has been placed
settlement construction moratorium equation, with one official saying
was “not accurate.”
Pollard’s wife, Esther, when asked by The Jerusalem
for her response to the idea, said, “I’m not doing any
The idea first emerged on Saturday in a report written by
Aaron Lerner for his Independent Media Review Analysis (IMRA) website
headline, “Observation: Proposed Pollard-Freeze Extension Exchange Tests
Commitment of Obama Administration to Peace Process.”
In the piece,
Lerner said that the “IMRA understands Netanyahu would have no problem
his cabinet to approve a three-month extension of the settlement
freeze in exchange” for Pollard’s release.
Just as important, he wrote,
“none of the parties in the ruling coalition are expected to threaten to
the government in the event that such a deal is implemented.”
day the Justice for Jonathan Pollard organization picked up the IMRA
placed it on its website along with a disclaimer that it was not
endorsing the idea, and also sent it out to journalists.
On Monday, Army
Radio reported that putting Pollard on the table as part of a moratorium
extension deal was being considered.
Danny Dayan, head of the Council of
Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, was critical of
idea, telling Army Radio, “It’s ugly blackmail, equivalent to giving up
Golan in exchange for Gilad Schalit.”
And Adi Ginsberg, an executive
member of the Jerusalembased Committee to Bring Jonathan Pollard Home,
doubtful that such a deal was possible.
Public Diplomacy and Diaspora
Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, who has visited Pollard in jail, said
story was “cheap spin,” trafficking both in Pollard’s suffering and the
hardships caused by the moratorium to 300,000 Israelis living beyond the
“There is no such proposal, and never was,” Edelstein
Five years ago, in the run-up to the disengagement from Gaza, large
headlines appeared in the Hebrew press that Israel was hopeful then- US
president George W. Bush would release Pollard in order to bridge the
were being caused in Israel as a result of the debate over the Gaza
Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst for the US
Navy, was convicted of spying for Israel 25 years ago and received a
sentence for passing classified information to an ally. He is being held
prison in North Carolina.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to