Netanyahu, Barak Again Trade Barbs Over Pollard

Middle East Newsline - January 20, 1999

JERUSALEM [MENL] -- Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his chief political rival on Wednesday again exchanged barbs over how to win the release of Jonathan Pollard, sentenced to life for passing U.S. Naval secrets to Israel.

The exchange between Netanyahu and Labor Party chairman

Ehud Barak

was sparked when the prime minister reiterated his call for Barak to sign an appeal to President Bill Clinton to release Pollard. It was Netanyahu'sfourth appeal to Barak in four days.

"He worked for us," Netanyahu said of Pollard. "He has been 13 years in solitary confinement. We have to bring him home. Ehud Barak must join in this."

Netanyahu said that dozens of Labor Party parliamentarians had lent their signatures to the appeal to Clinton until Barak announced he would not sign the letter. "Suddenly, they stopped signing it," Netanyahu told Israel Radio. "This is beyond politics. His refusal to sign this creates a split."

Minutes after Netanyahu's latest appeal, Barak responded. He said he had spoken to Clinton at 1 a.m. Wednesday [6 p.m. EST] regarding Pollard. The Labor Party leader said the public appeal to Clinton would harm any chances of Pollard's released.

"Netanyahu is willing to sell Pollard and let him stay in jail to stay in office," Barak said. "He and I know that these public appearances don't help Pollard but only keep him there. But it looks good on television. We are really in a very difficult problem."

The Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday that Netanyahu has asked Clinton to delay a decision on Pollard's future until the end of U.S. Senate impeachment hearings. The newspaper said Netanyahu also wants Clinton to meet with three prominent Jews who will discuss Clinton. They are World Jewish Congress chairman Edgar Bronfman, Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz and Nobel Prize laureate Eli Wiesel.

A Netanyahu spokesman denied that the prime minister has asked for any delay.

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