Pollard opposes releasing Barghouti

US, Israeli officials deny report of possible deal releasing Pollard, Barghouti.

pollard protest 298 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
pollard protest 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Jonathan Pollard would not agree to be freed from his US prison in exchange for the release of convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti, Pollard's lawyer, Nitzana Darshan-Leitner, told The Jerusalem Post Sunday. Darshan-Leitner's comments came amid a swirl of rumors prompted by an Army Radio report, but unconfirmed by either US or Israeli officials, of a pending deal whereby Israel would spring Barghouti and the US would let Pollard go.
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Pollard's wife, Esther, said the question of whether her husband would agree to such a deal was moot because he was a prisoner, and that no one would ask his opinion on the matter in any case. She said the whole issue was a "cynical" exercise by Israel to pave the way for what the government had already decided - to free Barghouti. She said the government has routinely used her husband's name to promote controversial domestic measures. For instance, she said that exactly one year ago Yediot Aharonot ran a headline trumpeting a deal whereby Pollard would be released after disengagement from Gaza. Esther Pollard said the government had already made up its mind about releasing Barghouti and "now wanted the public to think that there might be a silver lining to releasing a terrorist murderer." She said she was told that US President George W. Bush was willing to release Pollard before Pessah and was only waiting for a request from Jerusalem, but that such a request never arrived. She said her husband expressed opposition to a swap for Barghouti in 2004. In a speech circulated among those protesting in Jerusalem to mark 20 years of his incarceration in November 2004, Jonathan Pollard wrote that there had been a great deal of speculation about a three-way deal that would free him and Israeli Azzam Azzam, then held in an Egyptian prison, in exchange for Israel releasing Barghouti. "Let me state from the outset that I have always been opposed to gaining my freedom in exchange for the release of murderers and terrorists. My position has not changed," Pollard said at the time. "I deserve to be released because my sentence is unjust and because the US has promised my release on more than one occasion, including a commitment by the president of the United States at the Wye Summit in 1998." Senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office Sunday denied there were any plans for a Barghouti-Pollard deal or any intention to let Barghouti go. "Barghouti has been tried in Israeli courts and convicted of murder," a senior source in interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said. "This is not on the agenda." The source said stories about a Pollard-for-Barghouti deal already appeared in 2004, but went nowhere. He said he was not surprised such stories were appearing now, just before Olmert was expected to make his maiden prime ministerial trip to Washington, as a way to get the Israeli government to press the US administration on the issue. Olmert is expected to visit Washington soon after a new government is formed, although a date has yet to been set. The official said the Pollard issue was always on the agenda when Israeli prime ministers traveled to Washington. Esther Pollard, however, denied Israel's claim that it was doing everything to get her husband released. She said it was "simply incredible" to believe this as there had not been "one centimeter of progress" in 21 years. She said that while Pollard would never do anything to harm Israel, he "does not intend to remain silent" much longer, and that if he was not released soon he would disclose information about Rafi Eitan's role in his espionage and the "lies he told" that would "impact on everybody, including prime ministers, first and foremost Shimon Peres." Eitan, who today heads the Gil Pensioners Party, was a master spy who served as Pollard's chief handler from May 1984 until his arrest in November 1985. He said he accepted sole responsibility for the whole affair. Peres was prime minister at the time. Darshan-Leitner said the reports about a possible swap were merely a "way to distract public opinion from the real issue - the failure of the government to do anything to release Pollard right now." She said that if Eitan were, as seems likely, appointed a cabinet minister, she would petition the High Court of Justice on the grounds that it would be "unreasonable" to appoint the man responsible for Pollard's fate to head a government ministry. The attorney said that in such a petition she would reveal the contents of a document that Eitan holds that the US has wanted to get a hold of for years. US Embassy spokesman Stewart Tuttle dismissed talk of a Pollard-Barghouti swap as "silly speculation." "There is nothing to indicate any truth in any of this," he said. "The Pollard case is closed and he is serving his sentence, and Barghouti's fate depends on the decision of the Israeli government." In recent months there has been discussion in Washington think tanks of pressing Israel to release Barghouti, a strong Fatah leader who - according to this logic - could act as a counterweight to Hamas in the Palestinian Authority. The US government, however, has not endorsed this view. Pollard worked for US Naval Intelligence in the 1980s. In 1984 he established contact with Col. Aviam Sela of the IAF and transferred thousands of classified files he claimed the US should have given Israel under existing intelligence agreements. Sela then passed the files on to an Israeli intelligence unit headed by Eitan. Pollard was convicted of passing classified information and sentenced to life in prison, and has been incarcerated in a US jail for the past 21 years.