PM urges Pollard's release

December 14 - The Jerusalem Post - Danna Harman

JERUSALEM - Admitting yesterday that convicted spy Jonathan Pollard had been sent by Israel on a "mistaken mission," Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu argued for his release on humanitarian grounds, putting forth the government's position in greater detail than ever before.

President Bill Clinton, in turn, reiterated that the case is under review, and that a decision would be made "in a prompt way."

"Since he was sent by us on a mistaken mission - not to work against the United States, but nevertheless, to break the laws of the United States - we hope that, on a purely humanitarian appeal, a way will be found to release him," said Netanyahu at a joint press conference with Clinton.

Since recognizing Pollard as an Israeli spy in June, the main argument for his release has been based on humanitarian grounds, but this is the first time Netanyahu has publicly detailed the reasoning to any extent.

Netanyahu called Pollard's actions "bad and inexcusable," and openly admitted that Pollard had been sent by Israel to spy on the US.

"We think he should have served his time, and he did," said Netanyahu, stressing that Pollard had already served close to 13 years, most of them in solitary confinement.

"All that I appealed to President Clinton for is merely a humanitarian appeal... It is not based on exonerating Mr. Pollard. There is no exoneration for it," said Netanyahu. "It is not political. It is not to exonerate him. It is merely to end a very, very sorry case that has afflicted him and the people of Israel."

Clinton said the US Justice Department, all the law enforcement agencies under the department, and all other security, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies in the government had been invited to present their perspectives on the case by January.

"I will review all that," said Clinton, "plus whatever arguments are presented to me on the other side for the reduction of the sentence. And I will make a decision in a prompt way."

Pollard, from his jail cell in North Carolina, expressed satisfaction with Netanyahu's and Clinton's words, said one of his lawyers, who spoke to him yesterday.

[Note: Please see Esther Pollard's letter to editor.]

Batsheva Tsur adds:

"We expect the greatest power in the world not to show revenge but rather to adopt a policy of generosity and consideration with regard to Pollard," Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz told a crowd of about 100 adults and youth who held a demonstration outside Beit Hanassi yesterday evening while Clinton was speaking to President Ezer Weizman.

Pines-Paz, who was joined by Moledet MK Rehavam Ze'evi, another leader of the lobby for freeing Pollard, said: "Jonathan Pollard certainly does not present a threat. It is ridiculous to make out that he does. He was wrong and has apologized."