Netanyahu-Barak tiff over Pollard continues

January 21, 1999 - Batsheva Tsur - The Jerusalem Post

The Prime Minister's Office yesterday denied a report that Binyamin Netanyahu would ask all candidates for the premiership to sign a letter to President Bill Clinton calling for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.

The idea had reportedly been aired after Labor Party leader

Ehud Barak

refused to co-author such a letter with Netanyahu and was seen as a means to embarrass Barak.

"The letter was initiated and published by Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein and he got the signature of the prime minister, but unfortunately, not only did Barak refuse to sign it, he refused even to see Edelstein," Netanyahu's spokesman said yesterday evening.

Meanwhile, Barak announced that he had contacted the White House Tuesday night to discuss the case. He refused to give details, saying that was in line with his policy of quiet diplomacy over the issue.

As both sides continued to exchange barbs over the issue, Netanyahu, on an election campaign visit to Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market, said he was "very disappointed" that Barak had not signed the letter.

Sources close to the prime minister also said Barak had asked the White House not to release Pollard until after the elections were over so that Netanyahu would not be able to take credit.

But earlier, a source told The Jerusalem Post that Netanyahu himself had felt it would not be politic to expect US President Bill Clinton to make a decision about Pollard while his impeachment hearings are under way.

Labor last night demanded that Netanyahu apologize for the accusations against Barak.

"These accusations are hypocritical," a Labor spokesman said. "When Netanyahu was opposition leader, he flatly refused to lobby Republican circles on behalf of Pollard, despite repeated requests from the head of the public committee to free Pollard, Amnon Dror."