Netanyahu Tries New Approach To Lobby For Pollard Release

Middle East Newsline - January 19, 1999

JERUSALEM [MENL] -- Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, rebuffed in his efforts to obtain the cooperation of his chief political rival, has launched a new drive to free Jonathan Pollard, sentenced to life in a U.S. prison for relaying naval secrets to Israel.

Aides to the prime minister said Netanyahu will seek the signatures of all candidates running for premier to a letter that appeals to President Bill Clinton to release Pollard. So far, Labor Party chairman

Ehud Barak

has refused to participate.

At least three candidates are running for prime minister in addition to Netanyahu. Aides said they will be approached to sign the letter. Netanyahu's challenger in the Likud, former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, said he would sign the letter for Pollard's release when he becomes a candidate for prime minister. Currently, he is running in Jan. 25 elections to become the Likud's candidate for premier.

"Right now, I didn't sign the letter," Arens said. "But I don't see any reason why not to sign the letter."

Netanyahu's new efforts came one day after Barak said he would not sign a letter that called for Pollard's release. Barak said the letter was an election stunt rather than a serious effort to free Pollard, who spied for Israel in the early 1980s.

"I think of Pollard all the time and act all the time quietly for his release," Barak told reporters on Monday. "Netanyahu unfortunately is only thinking of elections. He is hurting more than helping him. If he is released it won't be because of his activities but despite his activities. I sat with the U.S. president, just him and me, and discussed this with him. I can say that the public activities of the government buried Pollard. This is a government of television."

On Monday, Netanyahu made the second appeal to Barak in 24 hours to sign the Pollard letter. "I call on Ehud Barak to lift his refusal and sign the letter," Netanyahu said before meeting Pollard's attorney Larry Dub. "This is not a political matter. Everybody who was sent by Israel has to be brought back home. We don't leave injured in the field. We don't abandon our people in the field. So, we must bring him back home."

Netanyahu aides said the new effort to have all candidates for prime minister sign the Pollard letter could turn Barak into the only holdout.

The other candidates did not immediately say whether they will sign the letter.

Israeli sources said on Tuesday they are not optimistic over a Clinton decision to release Pollard. They point to opposition in the administration and Congress.

Reform Jewish leader Rabbi Alexander Schindler urged Israeli politicians not to turn Pollard into a campaign issue. He urged Barak to sign the letter.

"Are there no issues of national interest which transcend Israel's stormy partisan politics?" Schindler asked in a statement. "Should Pollard be allowed to languish in jail even a day longer for fear that a political opponent might gain an edge?"