Israeli PM Candidates Wrangle Over Pollard

January 18, 1999 - Reuters

Convicted U.S. Jewish spy Jonathan Pollard took center stage in Israel's election campaign Monday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader

Ehud Barak

hurled barbs over Pollard's bid for freedom.

Netanyahu swiped at Barak for refusing to sign a joint letter to President Clinton requesting clemency for Pollard, a former U.S. navy intelligence analyst jailed for life in 1986 for passing secret U.S. documents to Israel.

Barak shot back at Netanyahu accusing him of being more interested in scoring political points than securing Pollard's release.

"Ehud Barak must sign this letter at a time when President Clinton is weighing whether to pardon Jonathan Pollard,'' Netanyahu told reporters after meeting Pollard's lawyer.

"We don't leave wounded in the field. We don't abandon men in the field,'' Netanyahu said, in an apparent reference to allegations that ex-army chief Barak had once neglected Israeli commandos wounded in a training exercise.

Barak, now leader of the main opposition Labor party, has staunchly denied abandoning the men.

Clinton promised to review Pollard's case last October during U.S.-brokered peace negotiations at the Wye Plantation in Maryland after Netanyahu demanded Pollard's release be linked to a land-for-security accord with the Palestinians.

Barak accused Netanyahu of doing damage to Pollard's cause by exploiting him for political gain ahead of national elections next May.

"I think about Pollard all the time,'' Barak told Army Radio. "The prime minister's problem is he is thinking about elections.

"The thought that public relations stunts will get Pollard out is mistaken. For now, the actions of this government, at Wye and now don't help Pollard. They harm him,'' Barak said.

"There are things which wisdom dictates should be done quietly,'' he added. Barak said he did not need to sign a public letter because he had privately informed Clinton of his views on Pollard in a recent meeting.

U.S. officials have cautioned against expecting any decision soon on clemency for Pollard, saying the administration would first review a broad range of recommendations.