Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has asked the US to release Israeli agent
Jonathan Pollard as part of a series of gestures made to Israel in an effort to
restart peace talks with the Palestinians, sources with knowledge of the talks
told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend.
Sunday is the 25th anniversary
of Pollard’s arrest at the gates of the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He is
serving a life sentence in prison in Butner, North Carolina, for passing
classified information to an ally, a charge that normally carries a sentence of
no more than 10 years.
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When Army Radio first reported last month that
Pollard’s name had been raised in talks with senior American officials about
restarting the settlement freeze, Israeli officials denied that his fate was on
the bargaining table. But sources confirmed that Netanyahu and American
officials had discussed whether Pollard’s release could persuade Israeli
ministers to accept another moratorium.
The sources said American
officials had sought to determine whether Pollard’s release could result in
Netanyahu agreeing to renew the freeze, and if so, by how much. The sources said
such discussions had occurred recently, but they did not know whether Pollard’s
fate had been raised in a seven-and-a-half-hour meeting between Netanyahu and US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on November 11, in which the prime minister
agreed to seek approval in the security cabinet for a three-month freeze in
return for a series of gestures that reportedly do not include releasing
quoted sources last month who said that “no minister in
Netanyahu’s government would oppose a two-month extension of the settlement
freeze in return for Pollard’s freedom.”
Netanyahu faced criticism forrefusing to take along a letter from 109 MKs asking US President Barack Obama to
grant Pollard clemency when he met with Vice President Joe Biden in New Orleans
on November 8. But the source said Netanyahu had been active behind the scenes
recently in seeking Pollard’s release.
Justice For Jonathan Pollard and
the Committee to Bring Jonathan Pollard Home have unequivocally called for his
release, “as a matter of simple justice, not as part of any deal that would
weaken Israel or endanger other Jews in any way.”
organizations called it shocking that Israel would even consider making a major
gesture to the Americans at this time without first pulling Pollard out of
“Israel’s continuing failure to demonstrate the most minimal
responsibility for the fate of her agent is shocking, particularly in light of
all of the latest revelations of government malfeasance by both the US and
Israel toward Pollard for the last 25 years,” the organizations said in a
“If there is any American ‘incentive’ to release Pollard as a
gesture to Israel – and a matter of simple justice – it is particularly at a
time when the US is negotiating with Israel for what it wants. Now is the time
to secure Pollard’s release, before any gestures are considered by Israel. Our
position remains, now more than ever: Pollard must be freed as a matter of
simple justice – and he must be freed now.”
In the weeks ahead of
Sunday’s 25th anniversary, notable American and Israeli officials who were
involved with Pollard’s arrest have pushed for his release. The officials
include Pollard’s former handler, Rafi Eitan, and Lawrence Korb, who was
undersecretary of state under Caspar Weinberger at the time of Pollard’s
The latest to join the list was Supreme Court Justice Elyakim
Rubinstein, who was an attaché in Washington and the most senior official at the
Israeli Embassy on the day Pollard was arrested. In a speech at the Menachem
Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on November 15, Rubinstein said he heard
about the arrest only after it happened.
“I hope and believe that the
government of Israel will continue to act to free Jonathan Pollard,” he said.
“Many mistakes have been made. But there is no way to go back and undo the past.
The time has come, for both moral and humane reasons, to free Jonathan
“Twenty-five years is a heavy price. It is my hope that the
United States, as an enlightened country, will release him.”
18, Congressmen Barney Frank, Bill Pascrell Jr., Anthony Weiner and Steven
Rothman, along with representatives of major US Jewish organizations, held a
press conference to call for Obama to grant Pollard clemency.
press conference, they released a letter to Obama, signed by 39 Democratic
members of Congress, asking him to act on the Pollard issue.
that there has been a great disparity from the standpoint of justice between the
amount of time Mr. Pollard has served and the time that has been served – or not
served at all – by many others who were found guilty of similar activity on
behalf of nations that, like Israel, are not adversarial to us,” the letter
“It is indisputable in our view that the nearly 25 years that
Mr. Pollard has served stands as a sufficient time from the standpoint of
either punishment or deterrence.”
The signatories stress that were
Pollard released now, it would “not in any way imply doubt about his guilt, nor
cast any aspersions on the process by which he was convicted.”
called clemency for Pollard after his 25-year sentence an “act of
The release of Pollard, a former US Navy intelligence
analyst who is serving a life sentence for passing classified material to
Israel, was recently floated as a possible bargaining chip for the US in its
quest to convince Netanyahu to extend a settlement freeze that the Palestinians
are demanding as a condition to restart stalled peace
Additionally, Pollard’s lawyer has recently filed a clemency
request with the White House after revelations suggesting government malfeasance
in the case surfaced.
The congressmen who signed on to the letter to
Obama did not cite these developments in making their appeal.
that Mr. Pollard’s sentence has been unduly harsh compared to sentences of other
individuals convicted of similar crimes is wrong,” Rothman said. “The crime he
committed was very serious, but the time that he has served, 25 years, has fully
met the needs of punishment and deterrence. Also, Mr. Pollard has long
expressed remorse for his actions.”Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to
this report from Washington.
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