Justice4JP Release - February 20, 2005
The following excerpts deal with Dennis Ross' description of the 1998 Wye Summit in his new book "The Missing Peace." Ross is the former American Special Envoy to the Middle East.
The excerpts tell a story that is timely, in that it sheds light upon the true nature of the U.S. - Israel "Special Relationship." This may provide a better understanding of the behind-the -scenes negotiations and interactions that are currently on-going between the two countries, in apparent attempt to forge a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Ross' unabashed account of how he was instrumental in preventing the release of Jonathan Pollard at Wye is stunning. Ross admits that President Clinton was less than candid on a number of issues including Pollard, but that he, Ross, did not press the President and took at face value the President's assertion that he had not made an explicit promise to free Pollard- a fact contradicted by all of Israel's key negotiators at Wye including Prime Minster Bibi Netanyahu. Ross also took at face value the President's assertion that the release of Palestinian prisoners with blood on their hands would go through with only minor modification even though he had reneged on freeing Pollard. Ross concedes that if he had pressed the President for the truth he might have found out otherwise and the ensuing diplomatic crisis over the issue might have been prevented, but he chose not to press.
Perhaps most stunning of all, Ross writes that even though he believes that Jonathan Pollard's life sentence is disproportionate and that Pollard deserves to go free unconditionally, but he still strongly advised the President not to free him. Why? Because Pollard, Ross explains, is far too valuable as a bargaining chip with Israel, to be released as a matter of simple justice.
No other American ally has ever been treated with such disdain. No other "friendly" country has been subjected to outright political extortion to secure the release of an agent. Even more shocking than Ross' open admission that Pollard is essentially being held for political ransom, is that since the book was published in the summer of 2004, there has been not a word of protest over the callous injustice to Jonathan Pollard or the unfair treatment of Israel in this regard, by either Israel or the American Jewish leadership.
Excerpt I: Pages 419 - 420
There was a strange development after the dinner. As President Clinton was briefing us on the dinner, he had his arm around Martin Indyk, who had been at our dinner. After the President left, I asked, "What was that about?" Martin [Indyk] explained that out of the blue the President had raised Jonathan Pollard with him - the American who had spied for Israel and had been imprisoned since 1985.* I suspected that Bibi must have raised Pollard's release in he private meeting. Martin had reminded the President that even though Rabin had asked for Pollard's release, he had not given him to Rabin. The President's response was that we needed to think not in terms of what was fair, but what would help us to do a deal. Martin interpreted the arm around him as the President's way of softening the impact of what he had said.
This was not the last we would hear of Jonathan Pollard in the Wye summit.
Footnote page 420: Pollard, while working as a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, had spied for Israel, sharing highly classified materials. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, had been held in solitary confinement for seven years, and many in Israel felt he had been abandoned. Some in the organized American Jewish community felt great ambivalence. On the one hand, he was a spy and should be treated as such, particularly because he raised the ugly specter of "dual loyalty." On the other hand, he had spied for Israel, a friendly country, yet he had been treated as if he were a mortal enemy of the United States. Would he, they asked, have received such a harsh sentence if he had been caught spying for a NATO ally? They tended to doubt it, and believed that there was not-so-subtle anti-Semitism at work in singling him out for especially harsh treatment. The complete story of Jonathan Pollard's case is reported in Wolf Blitzer's Territory of Lies, New York: Harper and Row, 1989
Excerpt II: Pages 438 - 439
Just after l a.m. I went to report to the President. The President was in the Wye Center with Sandy and Madeleine chatting about the congressional elections. When the President saw me, he shifted gears; did the Israelis have the text, he asked, and when I reported they did, he asked Sandy and Madeleine to leave so he could discuss a few things with me.
I assumed that he wanted to talk about where my private discussions stood with Bibi and Dahlan on "the thirty." But I was wrong; he did not want to talk about the thirty, he wanted to talk about releasing Jonathan Pollard. "Is it a big political issue in Israel? Will it help Bibi?" "Yes," I replied, because he is considered a soldier for Israel and "there is an ethos in Israel that you never leave a soldier behind in the field." But if you want my advice, I continued, I would not release him now. "It would be a huge payoff for Bibi; you don't have many like this in your pocket. I would save it for permanent status. You will need it later, don't use it now."*
Footnote page 438: I also said I was in favor of his release, believing that he had received a harsher sentence than others who had committed comparable crimes. I preferred not tying his release to any agreement, but if that was what we were going to do, then I favored saving it for permanent status.
Excerpt Continues Page 439:
The President had a different view. You know, he said, "I usually agree with you, but this stalemate has lasted so long that it has created a kind of constipation. Release it and a lot becomes possible. I don't think we can afford to wait, and if Pollard is the key to getting it done now, we should do it."
Madeleine walked back into the room at the tail end of the conversation and later asked me about it. I told her, repeating my view that it was a mistake to release Pollard for this deal, but making clear that the President was seriously thinking about doing so.
Excerpt III: Page 442 - 443
…Around nine-thirty, Sandy arranged for him, George Tenet and me to sit with the President, and Sandy began explaining that the President was considering releasing Jonathan Pollard. In the President's presence, he explained that this is what it might take to do the deal, and that he wanted to be able to take this step if necessary. George blew up, "Mr. President, you can't do this," explaining that the release would signal that spying could take place with impunity and further that it would damage the morale of the intelligence community which he had worked so hard to restore. At least, he concluded, if you are considering a release, have a procedure in which all agencies can express their view - "otherwise you will be savagely criticized."
The President remain largely impassive. With George still sputtering, he and I went out to the boardwalk. he told me that if the President released Pollard, he would have not choice but to resign from the CIA…
- George Tenet made similar threats a few months later, when President Clinton decided to free 16 Puerto Rican FALN terrorists in order to promote his wife's campaign for a senate seat. His threats were ignored and Clinton freed the FALN terrorists in spite of the protests from all of his top government agencies, proving beyond any doubt that Tenet's threats to resign were not the reason he reneged on freeing Jonathan Pollard, just an excuse. See FALN Page on the web for details..
- It should be noted that Ross' account of Tenet's behavior at Wye directly contradicts Conference of President Executive Chair Malcolm Hoenlien's version. Hoenlien claims that Tenet called him immediately after Wye and" tearfully" insisted that he had nothing to do with preventing the release of Jonathan Pollard. See "Malcolm Hoenlein's Dirty Little Secret". Hoenlein did not go public with this until George Tenet resigned in 2004. Hoenlein's revelation at that time was intended to exonerate and praise Tenet, not to help Jonathan Pollard!
Excerpt IV: Pages 455 - 459
The President left Bibi and walked over to me and asked me to go with him. We walked past Madeleine and Sandy and into the bathroom. He sat up on the counter, and told me Bibi wasn't going to sign the deal unless he released Pollard. He told him he couldn't do that and Bibi said he couldn't do the deal without it. He said he'd made concessions on the prisoners based on the assumption that he would have Pollard and on that basis could sell prisoners, indeed, could sell the whole deal. He couldn't sell the agreement otherwise and he had been counting on Pollard and that's why he'd agreed to the things he'd agreed to.
The President then asked what he should do. I asked him. "Did you make a commitment to release Pollard? If you did, you have to release him." The President swore he had made no promises; he'd said he would see what he could do, but he had made no promises. I then said, if you did not make a promise to him, you should not give in to this. "This is Bibi's problem and it is not tenable. Is he going to forgo a deal that enhances Israel's security, breaks the stalemate on peace, and gives the process a major push so he can have Pollard? That is not sustainable in Israel. He can't do it, and you can't give in to this kind of bullshit."
The President listened but did not respond. So I continued and said, "Look, I know Bibi wants this and probably believes he needs this, but he can't forgo the deal over Pollard. This is a bluff and you have to call it."
The President nodded and said he would not release Pollard. When we left he bathroom, the President gathered Sandy and Madeleine and told them what was going on. They both were equally adamant about not giving in to this. The President returned across the room to talk to Bibi. Bibi still sat with a deep scowl on his face. He had spoken to Dani Naveh and Aviv Bushinsky. As the President sat down with him, Bibi's demeanor remained unchanged.
After about twenty minutes, the President came over to us and said Bibi hadn't budged, even though he had pushed him hard to conclude. The President had also told him that while he could not release Pollard now, he would institute a review of the Pollard case within the next two weeks. That was as much as he could do at this point.
Bibi had said he needed the release to be able to sell the deal. He would need to talk to his colleagues in the cabinet before making any final decisions. The President told us he believed that Bibi had a real problem; while he had not made Bibi any promises on releasing Pollard, Bibi had acted on the assumption he would be released and this had colored Bibi's concessions. So the President concluded that Bibi was really in a bind.
Sandy said, If so, it is a bind of his own making and it is not up to us to rescue him. Madeleine was furious at Bibi for what she saw as a simple case of blackmail. She knew George Tenet's position, and agreed that under no circumstances should we accommodate Bibi.
Bibi was still sulking on the couch, and Madeleine decided to walk over to him to urge him to do the deal and accept the President's offer of the review. He would not get anything more and he should not jeopardize an agreement that was so clearly in Israel's interest. When Bibi told her that he could not do the deal without Pollard, Madeleine warned, "You are making a fatal mistake."
Sharon, who had returned to River House prior to concluding the deal, now returned. As he walked in to see Bibi, he acknowledged that there was a real problem and that he would talk to the Prime Minister about it. He talked for a short while to Bibi and Bibi then decided to leave the Wye Center building and the President's holding room where the President, Sandy, Madeleine, and I congregated. The President was adamant that he had never promised to release Pollard. Joe Lockhart came in and told us the Israelis were putting out that the deal was being held up over Pollard - and some were being quoted as saying the President had reneged on a promise to release him, while others were saying Pollard would be released imminently.
Lockhart said we had to say something. We agreed to keep our statement minimal, without addressing the Pollard issue. The President spoke to Bibi on the phone and Bibi told him he was going to take a nap and decide what to do after that. Madeleine spoke to Mordechai who said he would come by in about an hour to help fix the problem.
I chose to go to River House, hoping to see Bibi but willing to talk to his people if he really was asleep. I walked into River House and it became apparent to me that Bibi was meeting with Sharon, Mordechai, and others in the study. When the door was open, I could hear Bibi's voice. He clearly was not sleeping. Dani Naveh and then Yitzik Molho came over to talk to me. I decided to make my pitch to each of them, knowing they would report to Bibi.
I said, it is clear to me there is a misunderstanding; the President is adamant that he made no promise to release Pollard; it is clear that Bibi believes he had such an assurance. We can't settle that, but let's be honest with ourselves about what you are going to face. Whatever the immediate political gains of holding out for Pollard now, where will Bibi be next week when it is clear he has sacrificed an agreement that served Israel's security interests; that he can now go only backward with the Palestinians; and that he will have destroyed his relationship with the President? How popular will his stand on Pollard be then?
Dani did not try to argue the case, saying simply that Pollard was a very important issue and he felt it personally, having visited Pollard in jail. He did not suggest there would not be a big price to pay if everything agreed was sacrificed for Pollard now. But he asked if we could put ourselves in Bibi's shoes; he had made difficult concessions and they had been based on the assumption of getting Pollard. Couldn't we give Bibi a commitment that Pollard would be released by a date certain? Impossible, I told him. Any chance in this regard, which I considered to be very slim in any case, was destroyed by all their leaks now on Pollard to the Israeli press. Nonetheless the President had made clear that Pollard's case would be reviewed. That was something; they would not be able to get more at this point - and if it was not good enough, they would have no agreement, a very sour situation with us, and now review of Pollard.
Yitzik Molho joined us but said very little until Dani left. He said it was very complicated for Bibi now. I repeated that their leaks made any finessing now impossible. I then said, "Yitzik, the President won't budge now. Tell Bibi he will lose everything if this collapses over Pollard. You can evaluate the damage to him in Israel, but I can tell you he will kill himself here." Yitzik shrugged a sigh of despair, but I read him as understanding very well what was at stake and I knew he would talk to Bibi.
I returned to the Wye Center and walked into the President's room. He had spoken to the Vice President and to Rahm Emanuel, and while being uneasy, he understood he had to hold firm. What clearly helped with the politics on our side was Sandy's conversation with Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Gingrich was outraged that Pollard would even be discussed as part of the agreement. He made it clear he was absolutely opposed to Pollard's release.
Mordechai was about to arrive. He met initially with Madeleine, Martin, and me. He was anxious to find a way out. But his only suggestion was that Bibi and the President meet again. He said he would help to "fix everything," but Bibi needed to sit with the President once more. He met privately with the President for a few minutes and repeated the same points, and the President agreed to see Bibi. It was now about 1 p.m. and we needed to resolve things one way or the other. We were already running out of time if we were to have a White House signing ceremony. It was Friday, and with the onset of Shabbat, the ceremony would have to end before sundown.
Bibi arrived a little before 2 p.m. He saw the President alone and left. When the President came out to brief us, he was clearly relieved. Bibi would conclude the deal. He had thought about reducing the prisoners from 750 to 500, but felt that Arafat should not have to pay because of a problem between the two of us. According to the President, Bibi would, however, change the mix in the third tranche of prisoners releases so that there would be many more criminals and far fewer security prisoners released. And Bibi wanted us to inform Arafat of that.
The President asked whether that would be okay with Arafat. I said yes, provided we make it clear that we will work hard between now and then to try to ensure the original mix. The President had no problem with that. Sandy and the President said I should see Arafat to tell him this before we announced the deal and went to the White House for the ceremony. I was not inclined to go, fearing that if I went now with this kind of message Arafat would see it as part of the negotiation and might ask for something in return. I wanted to preempt that possibility. If we felt we needed to inform Arafat of this, I argued that it should be the Secretary who goes, emphasizing that Arafat will see the Secretary coming not to negotiate, merely to inform. There would, I concluded, clearly be less risk if the Secretary went. Madeleine agreed with this and I accompanied her.
Madeleine told Arafat what had occurred with Bibi. She told him in the end Bibi was willing to accept the deal without an assurance on Pollard, just the President's willingness to review the case. Bibi would change the mix in the third tranche of prisoner releases but we would work hard to get back to where we were. Was Arafat ready to go to the White House for the signing? He beamed and said yes.
In retrospect, I probably made a mistake. I should have pressed harder on what the President understood Bibi to mean by changing the mix on the third tranche of prisoner releases. As I was to find out later, that meant no release of prisoners with blood on their hands, period. Had I understood that - and I should have thought harder about it at the time - I would have understood that would get us back to fewer than 200 prisoners instead of nearly 350 with a broader opening over time to do more. Arafat, Abu Mazen, Abu Ala, and Saeb, who were sitting in the last meeting, needed to know that. But in our haste to close the deal after nine grueling days and a last sleepless night, we saw the finish line and did not desire any complications.
That was a very human response. But it clouded my thinking. I took as a given that we could work on Bibi in the context of implementation taking place, especially if the Palestinians were fulfilling their obligations, and would fix the prisoner problem over time. That made sense. But I was not thinking about how Bibi might be changing the rules of the game on the prisoner issue and how that might create problems in the interim. Had I pressed the President, I might have heard that Bibi had rescinded his offer on releasing Palestinians with non-Israeli blood on their hands. The President did not say that, he said merely that the mix in the third tranche would be changed. Maybe Bibi was not so clear. Maybe he presented it to the President that way. But by not pressing, and not really asking myself what that meant in practical terms, I allowed the ambiguity to continue. In so doing, I violated one of my cardinal rules in negotiations; It is better to leave a meeting with ill feeling than to leave with a misunderstanding.
This of course, was not just a meeting but also the "reclosing" of the deal, under the time pressure of an event that had to be held at the White House before sundown on this Friday afternoon. With the congressional elections approaching, the President needed to get out on the road, and there was a question about when the signing ceremony could take place if not on this Friday afternoon.
And we needed the event. We needed it not because the President deserved to have such an event and it would be helpful to him politically, but rather, because reaching such an agreement needs to be celebrated and recognized. Agreements like these will always be controversial; they will always engender opposition. Public support needs to be mobilized quickly. Momentum needs to be generated immediately. We needed the White House event to give the agreement the springboard it would require as it faced what I knew would be determined opposition from those who either fear progress or hate it.
As we were riding in the car back from Arafat's cabin on the way to the helicopter, Jamie Rubin congratulated me and saw hesitancy in my face. He asked what was wrong. I replied, "Bibi has already robbed us of the joy of reaching agreement." Little did I know how true this observation would become.
Excerpt V : Pages 479 - 480
In this environment, I went to the Middle East on December 7 to prepare for the President's trip. My main objective at this point was to try to get the Palestinians to stop demonstrations over the prisoner issue, which were producing daily violence. They gave Bibi a legitimate excuse to say the Palestinians were not living up to Wye, so how could he?
At Wye, Bibi had been very enthusiastic about the President's trip; he had envisioned exploiting it to show he was capable of producing a PNC meeting that no one in Israel thought possible, and claiming a great victory. But now it was producing the opposite. From right to left, everyone in Israel attacked him for doing what even Labor had never done; producing a statelike visit of the President of the United States to Gaza, lending enormous legitimacy to the movement for Palestinian statehood.
From the beginning, Arafat had seen the President's visit to Gaza as a giant step toward statehood and recognition. What was more, holding the PNC charter meeting with the President would symbolize that he was taking all necessary steps to meet his obligations under Wye. This turn of events made Bibi suddenly wish the meeting weren't taking place - for if the PNC effectively canceled the charter, Bibi would have to respond with steps of his own.
With Bibi, then, I resolved to see if I could work something out on the prisoners as a way of defusing the issue that had soured the environment - and a way of testing Bibi's willingness to implement the Wye agreement. He clearly read my mind. The first thing he said to me was, "I am glad you have come, it gives us a chance to save Wye." Bibi then proceeded to lay out an argument that was convincing. The Palestinians must stop taking their grievances to the street. He had carried out his commitments. They did not like the prisoner releases, but he had done what he was obligated to do.
Unless they changed their behavior, Wye could not be implemented. His conditions for resumption of Wye implementation were designed to save Wye, not end it.
I felt he was correct about the need for the Palestinians to stop the daily demonstrations. But I told Bibi that his demand that the Palestinians rescind their intention ever to declare statehood had nothing to do with Wye and his insistence that they must publicly agree to his approach to the prisoner issue was an impossibility for them and he knew that. If he was serious about implementing Wye, our focus should be on defusing the prisoner issue in a low-key way and on making sue that the PNC did what it was obligated to do.
Bibi replied that little could be done on the prisoner issue. On the last day of Wye, he went on, he had told the President that since we would not release Pollard he was rescinding the offer to release Palestinians who had "Palestinian" blood on their hands - and he had asked the President to convey that to Arafat. Hearing this gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach; we had not told Arafat any such thing. We had simply said that the mix of the last tranche of prisoner releases would be different than had been discussed but we would work to get it back to the numbers the President had spoken about with Arafat. This is what the President had told us.