Back to Square One With Barak

By Susan L. Rosenbluth, Editor - The Jewish Voice and Opinion - AUGUST 1999

The number of conflicting reports on who spoke to whom about Jonathan Pollard last month was dizzying, and since Prime Minister Ehud Barak has intimated that he feels he can accomplish more with "quiet diplomacy," getting reports may become increasingly difficult.

Of course, it could also be that Mr. Barak does not want to deal with the Pollard issue at all, and hiding behind "quiet diplomacy" would allow him to go for a long time without having to say anything.

Mr. Pollard, a former US Navy intelligence analyst, is serving a life sentence in the US for spying for Israel. He was arrested in 1985, and sentenced in 1987. Mr. Clinton has twice denied him clemency.

"Quiet diplomacy" on the Pollard front would probably suit President Bill Clinton, too. Last November, on television, he promised then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would personally conduct a full investigation into the Pollard affair and come up with a report. So far, there has been no investigation and no report.

"Perhaps Clinton is also engaging in quiet diplomacy-with himself," said one observer.


There were even contradictory reports on whether or not Mr. Pollard is linked to the Oslo Process. Some reports said he would be a consolation prize for Israel when the Jewish state leaves the Golan Heights completely. Mr. Clinton's National Security Advisor Sandy Berger said Mr. Pollard's freedom would have nothing to do with the peace process.

Before leaving Israel for the US, an article in Yediot Achronot by Nachum Barnea an Shimon Shiffer said Mr. Barak was not intending to bring up the Pollard issue at all in his meeting with Mr. Clinton.

Unlike Mr. Netanyahu who authorized ministerial visits to Mr. Pollard in his prison, Mr. Barak told reporters that "a public approach only hurts the chances of the Jewish-American spy for release." According to the article, Mr. Barak had decided not to request the release of Mr. Pollard at all, but, rather, to leave the issue "to internal deliberation by the American government."

New Policy

Calling Mr. Pollard a Jewish-American spy rather than an Israeli agent signified a change in Israeli governmental attitude-and, perhaps, a not entirely legal one. After years of struggling with the courts through several law suits, Mr. Pollard's attorneys managed to convince the Israeli Supreme Court to force the Israeli government to take responsibility for Mr. Pollard's activities.

Consequently, in 1995, Mr. Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship, and, in May 1998, the government publicly acknowledged him as an Israeli agent and committed itself to work diligently for his immediate release.

"Barak's return to a policy of implausible deniability was so egregiously out of step with history that within hours of the publication of the Yediot article, Barak's office issued a denial of the story and insisted that Barak would indeed bring up the issue of Pollard's release with Clinton," said Mr. Pollard's wife, Esther, who noted that the "midstream switch clearly signaled that a credible initiative for the release of an Israeli agent was not on Barak's agenda."

"Barak's acceptance of government policy in word while undermining it in deed shames both the government and people of Israel who have abandoned Jonathan to languish in an American prison for 14 years for his service on behalf of Israel," she said.

A Complicated Plan

In their article, Messrs. Barren and Shiver explained that Messrs. Netanyahu and Barak differed in their approach to the Pollard issue. Mr. Barak, who would not even sign a joint letter with Mr. Netanyahu asking for Mr. Pollard's release, claimed that Mr. Netanyahu's public approach, which encouraged ministers to make "pilgrimages" to North Carolina to visit Mr. Pollard in prison, only hurt his chances for freedom.

Mr. Barak, the authors said, was determined to handle the issue "secretly." It would not be turned into part of the Middle East package, he said.

By the next day, Mr. Shiver had a new article in Yediot. This one explained that, yes, Mr. Barak would bring up the subject of Mr. Pollard. "The Americans plan to work on an agreement that will be submitted to Barak: Israel will release Palestinian prisoners 'with blood on their hands,' and, in return, America will release Jonathan Pollard, and Egypt will release Azzam Azzam, the Israeli Druse convicted of charges of espionage," said the article.


If the Pollards found the scheme too pat, they did not have much time to comment. That same day, Mr. Pollard's support system, Justice for Jonathan Pollard, issued a press release stating that he had been taken from the prison to Duke University Medical Hospital for a CAT scan.

According to the release, he was transported in a convoy of three armed vehicles, accompanied by 11 Special Operations guards in full combat gear, including helmets, bullet-proof vests, and machine guns.

Mr. Pollard was shackled in chains, hand and foot.

"The spectacle of a bearded man wearing a kippah, bound in chains and accompanied by a heavily-armed task force not only lent credence to the picture the US government has painted of Jonathan Pollard as 'very dangerous,' but also terrified the staff and patients at the hospital who had no idea who he was or why he was brought to Duke under such heavy guard," said the release.

CAT Scan

According to the release, Mr. Pollard suffers from "extreme physical symptoms related to unbiopsied growths in his sinus cavities." His symptoms include nausea, dizziness, and blinding headaches. "He has until now been unable to secure appropriate medical treatment or adequate pain relief," said the release.

In the release, Justice for Jonathan Pollard thanked Congressman Jerold Nadler (D-NY) and Rabbi Pesach Lerner, director of the National Council of Young Israel, for their assistance in securing the CAT scan that Mr. Pollard had been denied for seven years.

In addition, Mr. Pollard recently spent some time under observation in the Butler prison clinic. He was reportedly unable to move because of a back injury.

"Prison doctors did not have the massive clearances from Washington needed to take him to Duke for immediate emergency treatment by an orthopedist, as they would have been able to do for any other prisoner. He was ultimately released back to his cell and continues to be monitored. He is slowly recovering and is able to walk again," the release concluded.

Now It's a Panel

If some of Mr. Pollard's problems were stress related, he could scarcely be blamed. While Mr. Barak was still in Washington, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart announced that Mr. Clinton's "panel to examine the Pollard case is still deliberating."

It was evident that if Mr. Barak had made any efforts towards winning Mr. Pollard's freedom, Mr. Clinton had dismissed them. Mr. Lockhart said members of the panel "have collected information, but no final recommendation has been forwarded to the President." He said he did not expect a recommendation to be forwarded "in the near future."

Although at the Wye River signing, Mr. Clinton promised that he himself would listen to all parties involved in the Pollard case, review the evidence, and then come to a conclusion on the prisoner's fate, Mr. Pollard's attorneys say they have not even been granted a meeting with White House staffers to discuss his imprisonment.

A Rabbit and a Hat

Mr. Pollard's supporters are very skeptical about Mr. Lockhart's story about a panel. "The President never appointed a panel and didn't have one until Lockhart pulled one out of a hat. This last-minute invention of a mysterious panel gives the President cover to keep the wheels of this case spinning without resolution for as long as he needs to in order to fulfill political objectives," said Justice for Jonathan Pollard.

One of Mr. Barak's senior aides said the prime minister was no longer seeking Mr. Pollard's release. He was instead aiming just to win a commitment from Mr. Clinton to reduce Mr. Pollard's sentence on humanitarian grounds. Justice for Jonathan Pollard called this newest turn in the story "a device that would likely guarantee that Jonathan would never get out of prison-or at least not for many years-but would allow Mr. Barak to claim victory and give Mr. Clinton the chance never to have to deal with the issue again in his term of office.

"Whatever is going on here is certainly not about justice," said Justice for Jonathan Pollard.

Never Raised It

One day later, at a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Mr. Barak admitted he had not even raised the Pollard issue with Mr. Clinton. Echoing Mr. Lockhart's statement that there would be no decision for a long time, Mr. Barak made clear he will not raise the issue either in the foreseeable future.

A close Barak advisor told a few reporters that Messrs. Barak and Clinton have "a tacit understanding" that Mr. Pollard will be returned to Israel as a "consolation prize" following a full and unqualified Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. This report contradicts Mr. Barak's own statements that the terms of the withdrawal from the Golan have yet to be determined, and then they must be submitted to a public referendum.

An American official who reportedly was involved in formulating the new deal and spoke to a few reporters on condition of anonymity, confirmed Mr. Clinton's offer to exchange Mr. Pollard for a total withdrawal of Israeli forces and installations from the Golan.

The official said Mr. Clinton feels no obligation to honor the commitment he made to Mr. Netanyahu to release Mr. Pollard as part of the implementation of the Wye accords, concurrent with the freeing of Palestinian terrorists.

On the record, Mr. Barak said he thought Mr. Pollard has been in prison long enough, that he deserves to be returned to Israel, and that his government is fully committed to security his return.


While Mr. Barak was still in the US meeting with Mr. Clinton, Mrs. Pollard granted interviews on Israeli radio. She told Arutz 7's Ron Meir that she was "disappointed and heartbroken" that she and Mr. Pollard's attorneys had not had any contact with Mr. Barak.

"We are hoping this is a forgivable lapse, but we are flying in the dark at this point, and that is not fair after 14 years of incarceration on behalf of the state of Israel," she said.

She confirmed Mr. Netanyahu's claim that in the hours preceding the signing of the Wye agreement, Mr. Clinton "executed a double-cross" when he suddenly backed down on his explicit commitment to free Mr. Pollard in exchange for Mr. Netanyahu's signature on the agreement.

"Mr. Netanyahu is 100 percent correct," she said. "We were able to verify it at the time, and not just from the Israeli side, but from both sides of the table."

In an interview with Chaim Zissovitch on Kol Yisrael radio, Mrs. Pollard admitted her husband is "very ill, very tired, worn out, and disappointed,"

"An Internal Problem":

"Here he is, an Israeli agent who had to take the government to court-not once, but several times. First to get his citizenship, and then to compel the government to recognize him as an Israeli agent. And after all the years he sat in prison-14 years for his service on behalf of Israel-a new Israeli prime minister comes to the US and declares not that he is an Israeli agent, not that he must go free. But that Pollard is an internal American problem and he not willing to interfere," she said.

She told Mr. Zissovitch she and her husband knew for certain that Mr. Barak did not even raise the issue of Jonathan Pollard with the President.

Asked if she would give his "quiet diplomacy" approach a chance, she said, before the Netanyahu government, she and her husband had 10 years of "quiet diplomacy."

"We're not demanding big headlines in major newspapers. What we're asking is that words and actions match, and that is not what is happening now. The actions of the Prime Minister contradict the words of his office. His office claims he is raising the issue with the President, while he privately admits he is not bringing the subject up and has no intention of doing so. What is going on here," she said.

Keeping Clinton Straight

Through his attorney, Larry Dub, Mr. Pollard said he had no problem with quiet diplomacy, provided it really occurs. "Our most credible sources indicate it simply is not," he said.

While he came up with a number of possible scenarios, the one he like best involved Mr. Barak engaging in quiet diplomacy, making "a principled, credible demand for my release-consistent with the demands made by both his predecessors, which resulted in the President's commitment to both Rabin and Netanyahu to release me."

"If again, behind the scenes, Mr. Barak would quietly condition Israel's fulfillment of specific agreements on my release to ensure that the President keep his word this time, then we would be as quiet as mice," said Mr. Pollard.