Israel moots freeing Barghouthi for US spy: radio
Dan Williams - Reuters - April 16, 2006
Israel could release jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouthi if Washington grants
clemency to a U.S. Navy analyst convicted of spying for the
Jewish state in the 1980s, Israel's Army Radio said on Sunday.
It said Israel plans to propose the swap for Jonathan
Pollard once acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is sworn in.
Israel would hope to convince the Bush administration that
freeing Barghouthi, a senior figure in the once-dominant and
pragmatic Fatah movement, would weaken the new Palestinian
government under Islamist group Hamas, Army Radio said.
Barghouthi is serving five life sentences in an Israeli
prison for masterminding Palestinian militant attacks. In
public, Israeli officials have ruled out his release.
U.S. administrations have been similarly firm on Pollard
serving out a life term handed down for treason, despite calls
for a pardon from Israel and fellow U.S. Jews.
Israeli government officials denied the Army Radio report,
which cited sources in the Prime Minister's office and has
proven authoritative in the past. A spokesman for the U.S.
Embassy in Tel Aviv dismissed it as "speculation."
"The Pollard case is over. He is serving a sentence," said
spokesman Stewart Tuttle. "As for Barghouthi, that is something
for the Israelis to decide."
Israeli political sources said such a swap was first
proposed in 2004 by aides to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,
but was rejected outright by mid-level U.S. officials.
Pollard's wife, Esther, noted that clemency for her husband
had been floated in the past when the Israeli government needed
to rally right-wing support.
Olmert, who succeeded Sharon as head of the centrist Kadima
Party in March general elections, plans to follow up last
year's Gaza withdrawal by pulling back from some land where
Palestinians seek statehood in the occupied West Bank. Israeli
ultranationalists see the territories as a Jewish birthright.
BARGHOUTHI POLITICALLY POTENT
"Every time the government wants to push this or that
initiative, suddenly they bring up Pollard's name," Esther
Pollard, who lives in Israel, told Army Radio.
"This is all about Barghouthi, not Pollard. They want to
free Barghouthi," she said. "Barghouthi will go free and
Jonathan will stay in prison."
Long touted as successor to the late Palestinian leader
Yasser Arafat, Barghouthi remains politically active behind
bars. He has struggled to shore up Fatah since Hamas beat it in
Palestinian elections in January -- a major setback to U.S.-led
efforts to stem more than five years of Middle East bloodshed.
His wife, Fadwa, also voiced scepticism about a swap.
"This is perhaps the fourth time I have heard such
rumours," she told Reuters, but added that releasing Barghouthi
and other Palestinian prisoners would offer "a political
Calls for Israel to lobby for Pollard's release have
mounted since his former handler in the Lakam industrial
espionage unit, Rafael Eitan, made a strong showing in last
month's Israeli general elections at the head of a pensioners'
Pollard was arrested in 1985 outside the Israeli Embassy in
Washington and sentenced for selling tens of thousands of pages
of classified information to Israel. His supporters say it was
information Israel should have received from the United States.
Eitan, who took sole responsibility for the Pollard affair,
is expected to be offered a cabinet portfolio by Olmert. He has
pledged to campaign in parliament for Pollard's release.
Pollard accuses Eitan of forsaking him and has vowed
through his lawyers to contest any such appointment in Israel's
High Court and publish new information "damaging" to the
ex-spymaster and the government. Eitan declined comment.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah)