Tenet's Jewish Doctrine

David Twersky, Editor - New Jersey Jewish News - July 1, 1999

On Thursday June 24th, George Tenet, director of the CIA, gave members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations a tour d'horizon of global threats to and opportunities for American national interests.Before the larger meeting, Tenet met with a smaller group to discuss Jonathan Pollard's fate. Pollard is the American Jew convicted of spying for Israel and serving a life sentence in a North Carolina federal prison.

While both briefings were, of course, off the record, we have learned from several participants that Tenet displayed a broad knowledge of the scene, but that there was no progress on the Pollard issue. Tenet's views on the matter are of extraordinary interest because it was none other than the CIA director who threatened to resign if Clinton freed Pollard.

Tenet's threat came during the Wye Plantation conference last fall and Clinton's reversal almost derailed the signing of the agreement. An avalanche of intelligence community-leaked stories followed in newspapers, columns and magazines, purportedly explaining why Pollard could not be released - the damage done to United States interests, it was said, was severe. Others argued that whatever the merits (or lack thereof) of Pollard's plea, it should not be linked to the peace process (this from folks who had no problem linking loan guarantees to Jewish settlements).

Now comes Benjamin Netanyahu's version. According to a book Bibi is writing, reported on by Shimon Shiffer in Yediot Ahronot last week, Clinton had promised to free Pollard as an inducement to get Bibi to Wye. When the rest of the deal was struck, Clinton reneged, partly, it would seem, in response to pressure from Tenet.

What accounts for the powerful anti-Pollard explosion during and after Wye? Three years before, on Oct. 6, 1995, we reported that then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin raised the Pollard issue at the White House in the context of the peace process during post-Oslo B accord talks. Rabin received commitments from Clinton on a host of issues, but got nowhere when he linked the release of Palestinian terrorists from Israeli jails to the release of Pollard.

In a Sept. 30, 1995 interview with the editors of several Jewish newspapers, including NJJN, just weeks before his assassination, Rabin said he had asked Clinton to consider, as he thought about Pollard, that Israel was releasing more than 2,000 Palestinian prisoners as part of its agreement with the PLO. "I didn't link" the two issues, Rabin told the editors, but merely asked the president "to bear it in mind." But Clinton "didn't answer me," he said.

Writing in the May 11 Ha'aretz, Akiva Eldar reported that "a few weeks before his assassination, Yitzhak Rabin told a group of close associates that at his last meeting with Bill Clinton in Washington, DC, the president promised that when the negotiations on the final status agreement began and the talks with the Syrians were renewed, he would grant Pollard a pardon... One of the people closest to Rabin at that time says that Clinton promised that he would do everything he could to give Pollard as a present to Rabin."

So why the brouhaha in '98, but not in '95? Because Pollard's fate is already inexorably linked to the peace process or, more correctly, to the state of U.S.-Israel relations. Rabin didn't get Pollard, but his request that Pollard be freed did not spark an anti-Pollard avalanche like the one last fall, because Washington approved of his policies.