Coalition whip: All Israeli Governments Want Pollard

LIAT COLLINS and ARIELE MORTKOWITZ - The Jerusalem Post - July 16, 1999

Coalition whip Ophir Pines-Paz, who chaired the Caucus for the Freedom of Jonathan Pollard in the last Knesset, said Thursday he thinks it is important that Prime Minister Ehud Barak raise the Pollard issue during his meeting with US President Clinton. "It is particularly important to raise it in one form or another during the first meeting with the president in Washington," said Pines-Paz. "It is important that President Clinton realises that not just the Netanyahu government wanted Pollard's release but all Israeli governments and the whole country. This is the message which must conveyed."

Pines-Paz said he heard conflicting reports on whether Barak intended bringing the matter up. He rejected the possibility that open lobbying would harm Pollard's chances for release. "I know that - at least in the period when we spoke on an ongoing basis - Pollard himself was very much in favour of a public campaign," Pines-Paz said.

The case of Jonathan Pollard has been a sore point between Israel and the US since the Navy intelligence analyst's conviction in 1987 for passing classified material to Israel. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and is currently in a medium-security US federal penitentiary in Butner, North Carolina.

Since then, Israeli prime ministers have repeatedly requested clemency from US presidents. Just days before he left office in 1992 Yitzhak Shamir signed a letter to President George Bush asking that Pollard be pardoned.

From 1993-1995 Yitzhak Rabin directly appealed to Clinton to at least reduce Pollard's life sentence. Clinton instructed the Justice Department to review the case, but nothing came of it. Rabin even offered a spy swap for Pollard's release.

In 1995, Shimon Peres delivered to Clinton a further request for a pardon that Rabin had written two days before his assassination. Binyamin Netanyahu asked Clinton to review the case several times during his premiership from 1996.

This January, as opposition leader, Ehud Barak refused to sign a joint letter drafted by Netanyahu to Clinton, but he reportedly contacted the White House himself in line with his preference for quiet diplomacy. In 1995, Barak, then interior minister, had granted Pollard Israeli citizenship following a renewed request by Pollard's lawyer.