Officials: Pollard-Barghouti Release Deal May Be on the Horizon

Haaretz - April 16, 2006

Israeli officials believe that in several months, when the chaos in the Palestinian Authority increases, the United States will agree to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for the release of Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving time in an Israeli jail.

The officials said it was still too early to put such a deal on the table, but when the tide turned against the Hamas government, a situation could develop in which Barghouti's release could restore Fatah to power in the PA. In such an event, the officials said, the Americans were likely to agree to a Pollard-Barghouti deal.

The officials confirmed that two years ago, around the time that Barghouti was sentenced to five life sentences plus 40 years, the idea of releasing him in exchange for Pollard was raised.

An Israeli official mentioned the idea in conversation with a U.S. counterpart, without prior approval from former prime minister Ariel Sharon. The U.S. official rejected the offer categorically, but Israeli officials believe nevertheless that the entry of Hamas into the PA government will lead the United States to change its position.

On Passover Eve last week, Pollard's Israeli attorney, Nitzana Darshan-Leitner, sent a letter to Prime Minister-designate Ehud Olmert asking him not to appoint Pensioners Party chairman Rafi Eitan as a minister in the new cabinet. Leitner has threatened to petition the High Court of Justice against any such appointment. She claims that it would disgrace the government if Eitan, Pollard's recruiter and handler, were given a portfolio.

In the letter, Leitner claims that the U.S. refusal to release Pollard is based on the fact that Eitan refuses to hand over to the United States a specific document in his possession.

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