Netanyahu: No decision on Pollard release

October 2, 1998 - Batsheva Tsur - The Jersualem Post

JERUSALEM - The release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard was raised during Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's talks in Washington with President Bill Clinton earlier this week, but no decision was taken, Netanyahu told the cabinet yesterday.

Netanyahu's comments followed a report in yesterday's Yediot Aharonot saying that a deal had been reached with the Americans to release the spy in the wake of an agreement on the West Bank with the Palestinians.

Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein, who was sent to Capitol Hill on a special mission by Netanyahu two weeks ago, said yesterday evening that "public opinion in the US and Israel was now ripe" for the spy's release.

"Even hard-nosed Republicans," with whom he had met on Capitol Hill, had given him the assurance they would not use the Pollard issue against Clinton if the US president agrees to free him, Edelstein said. But, he said, "so far there has been no breakthrough."

Pollard's second wife, Esther Zeitz-Pollard, reacted angrily to the newspaper report, saying it was "a deliberate sleight-of-hand meant to deceive the Israeli public."

"Our sources at the highest levels in Washington tell us that the subject was not raised in a serious manner during the prime minister's meeting with President Clinton. Consequently, no agreement was reached on the matter."

Zeitz-Pollard claimed the leak was a propaganda move. "Every time the prime minister goes to Washington these stories are leaked to the press to relax the Israeli public, so they won't wonder why the prime minister is coming home empty handed once again," she said.

Meanwhile, Meir Rosenne who was ambassador to Washington at the time of the Pollards' arrest, criticized the national-unity government's behavior at that time towards the spy. Israel "did something that was not acceptable in connection with spies ... When a spy is caught, usually the country that sent him 'knows nothing about him'," Rosenne said in an Israel Radio interview.

"But in the case of Pollard, because it was the US, what did we do? We cooperated with the US authorities to incriminate Pollard...This is something that had never happened before and there is no doubt that it affected the morale of all our secret services adversely."