Free Pollard, Yishai to urge Bush

After meeting with Esther Pollard, deputy premier says gov't has't done enough on behalf of convicted spy.

Pollard 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Pollard 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Shas leader Eli Yishai said Monday that he would urge US President George W. Bush during his visit to Israel this week to pardon Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in light of the friendship between two allies. "If we need to make gestures to our enemies, the Palestinians, than a friendly country like the US needs to make a gesture and free Jonathan," Yishai told reporters after a brief meeting with Pollard's wife, Esther, at his Jerusalem office. Yishai pledged to bring up the issue during a parliamentary meeting with Bush this week in Jerusalem, and to pass on a letter that Pollard wrote to Bush from his North Carolina prison cell. For her part, Esther Pollard criticized Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for failing to seriously work for her husband's release during his many visits to the US. "Until this very day, the prime minister did not whisper his name seriously in the United States," Pollard said. Olmert has given no indication that he will discuss the sensitive issue with Bush during the latter's three-day visit to Israel that begins on Wednesday. The Shas chairman told The Jerusalem Post that the government had not done enough to get Pollard released. "So long as he has not returned home, we have not made enough efforts," Yishai said. A former US Navy intelligence analyst, Pollard, 53, has served 22 years of a life sentence for espionage. He was arrested in the US in 1985 for spying for Israel, and accepted a plea bargain a year later in which he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit espionage. The American government then reneged on the shorter prison term they had promised him in return for his plea bargain and cooperation, and in March 1987 he was sentenced to life in prison. In the two decades since, successive US administrations have rejected repeated requests for clemency. Israeli efforts to attain Pollard's release peaked during the administration of prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who asked then-US president Bill Clinton to pardon Pollard during the 1998 peace talks at the Wye Plantation in Maryland. Clinton agreed to favorably review the case, and reached what Israeli political sources termed at the time "a tacit understanding" that Pollard would be released as part of the peace process. But following media leaks and opposition from officials in the US intelligence community, including then-CIA director George Tenet - who reportedly threatened to resign if Clinton acceded to Netanyahu's request for a pardon - Clinton backpedaled from the understanding. In 1998, during Netanyahu's tenure as prime minister, Israel acknowledged that Pollard had worked for its intelligence services and granted him citizenship. Pollard's supporters have consistently said his sentence was much harsher than warranted considering he had passed documents to a US ally. Over a year ago, the US Supreme Court refused to give Pollard access to records that could bolster his case for a presidential pardon. A US federal appeals court had previously said that it had no authority to review requests for the documents. Over the last several months, there has been repeated speculation that Pollard could be released as part of a Israel-Palestinian prisoner exchange deal that would see Israel free Fatah-Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms for his role in the murders of four Israelis and a Greek monk, and the Palestinians release IDF Cpl. Gilad Schalit, being held in the Gaza Strip. But Pollard's wife said her husband rejects any deal that would see Israel free Palestinian security prisoners in return for his release by the US, and that his release should be requested simply as "a matter of justice." Former US special envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross has written in his book The Missing Peace that he had favored Pollard's release, but advised Clinton that he should be freed only as Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations progress, as part of permanent status agreements between the sides. Meanwhile, Jerusalem police are bracing for vigorous protests by Pollard supporters during Bush's visit to the capital. Several hundred supporters of the imprisoned spy gathered on Monday in Jerusalem to unofficially rename Kikar Paris as "Pollard Square," in a move that has not been recognized or approved by the municipality.