Sources: There was a tacit deal to release Pollard

October 25, 1998 - The Jerusalem Post - Batsheva Tsur & Danna Harman

There was a tacit understanding about Jonathan Pollard's release between President Bill Clinton and Israel, which tied the release to the implementation of the Wye Memorandum, a source in Jerusalem said last night.

But at no stage did Clinton speak of Pollard being released immediately, the source said. Friday's showdown over Pollard's release will further delay it, the source added.

"The expectation was that, as each side implemented its part of the agreement, there would be 'humanitarian' gestures," the source said. Thus, for example, Clinton was expected to announce the release of Pollard and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would announce the release of Azzam Azzam, after Israel set free the 750 Palestinian prisoners, the source explained.

This would have made it much simpler for Clinton to win the approval of Congress. The Republicans had indicated they would not resist the release as long as Pollard was not turned into a hero. However, it was also thought Clinton would wait until the end of November so the Democrats would not be embarrassed by the Pollard issue during the upcoming elections, the source added.

"There was certainly no intention that Pollard would return to Israel on Netanyahu's plane and be met with the fanfare of the IDF band and a red carpet," the source said. "The matter, it had been agreed, would be kept discreet."

Senior Israeli sources said that Clinton had promised to release Pollard several weeks ago, when Netanyahu last met him in Washington. According to the sources, Clinton reiterated this commitment on Thursday and Israel felt it had an understanding with the president.

A US official said that, while Clinton may have been willing to allow Pollard's release, the interference of several other key players - such as CIA chief George Tenet and House Speaker Newt Gingrich - stayed his hand.

News of Pollard's possible release as part of the Wye deal apparently was leaked by a senior member of the prime minister's delegation to someone in Israel, who then passed it on to Israel Radio reporter Gil Litman.

Allison Kaplan Sommer adds: A link between the redeployment negotiations and Pollard's release was first publicized this summer, when Esther Pollard told The Jerusalem Post that Israeli officials had told her that her husband's case would be raised with the US as the last element in an agreement on a further IDF redeployment.

As one official was said to have explained it, the US would make some last-minute demands for concessions from the Israelis that would include a full handover of 13.1 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority. In response, Israel would demand Pollard's release.