Goverment puts official visits to Pollard on hold

January 19, 1999 - Hillel Kuttler - The Jerusalem Post

WASHINGTON - Visits by Israeli government officials to imprisoned spy Jonathan Pollard have been put on hold while the campaign proceeds to attain his release, Israeli Embassy officials said at the beginning of the week.

The officials did not say that the decision is an explicit one decided on by either Pollard or the Israeli government, but only that, in the words of one, "now all the effort is being put in to bring about his release - that is what he wants and rightly so - and everything else is less important."

The slowdown comes as President Bill Clinton decides on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's request to free Pollard, an issue discussed during the Wye negotiations. Leading American foreign policy, intelligence, defense, and judicial officials last week transferred to Clinton their recommendations on the matter.

The embassy's public affairs officer, Avi Granot, the government's new liaison to Pollard, has made only one visit to Pollard in his six months on the job. Last autumn, Pollard cancelled, at the last minute, a visit by Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky and his wife Avital.

An embassy official had no explanation for the change in procedure, and said that Pollard has not instructed Granot to cease visiting.

Ambassador Zalman Shoval said yesterday he has no direct contact with Pollard, and another embassy official said that Shoval speaks on occasion with Pollard's wife Esther.

In the past two weeks, a bevy of op-ed articles have appeared in leading American publications, the majority of them arguing for Pollard's continued incarceration for passing secrets to Israel in the early 1980s. Shoval said he supposed that the articles have been appearing because "there are people who are afraid that the [president's] review can lead to his release," whereas that possibility was given little chance of happening before.