PM stops Pollard talk at meal with Bush

Says meeting with Bush"....not the appropriate occasion to discuss Jonathan Pollard"?!

Gil Hoffman - The Jerusalem Post - January 10, 2008

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert surprised participants at Thursday's working meal of Israeli ministers with US President George W. Bush when he said that it was not the appropriate occasion to discuss the fate of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.

The meal was attended by eight ministers, the heads of the Mossad and Shin-Bet (Israel Security Agency), US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top American officials. Olmert asked Bush to pardon Pollard when he met with the president on Wednesday, but he was turned down.

Pollard's wife Esther said she was disappointed that Olmert refrained from discussing her husband, because in Judaism, redeeming captives defers any other issue. She said she was not impressed by Olmert raising the issue the day before either.

"That's not how a serious request is made to secure the release of an Israeli agent in peril after

23 years in jail

," Pollard said. "It's not something you casually bring up and then leak to the press. It reeks of a feeble attempt to discourage the massive public outcry for Jonathan's release. That's the best possible sign that the effort is succeeding and the Jewish people needs to redouble its efforts and press even harder to bring him home."

All the members of the Jerusalem city council signed a letter calling for Pollard's release, which was hand delivered to Bush by Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupoliansky on Wednesday.

Shas chairman Eli Yishai delivered to Bush a letter from Esther Pollard and another from Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef asking for Pollard's release. The rabbi said that if Bush answered his request affirmatively, he would be blessed with a long life.

"One of the most important mitzvot in Judaism is redeeming captives," Yosef wrote. "At this opportune time, I offer my humble request on behalf of the Jews of Zion that Your Excellency release our brother, the prisoner Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a sentence for spying on behalf of the State of Israel. His health is deteriorating."

For the second straight day, Bush intervened in Israeli politics, calling upon the politicians at the meal to support Olmert. Bush spoke at length with Yishai and Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.

"Take care of Olmert, so he will stay in power," Bush said. "He's a strong leader. Israeli politics is like Karate that you never know when the next chop will come."

Yishai told Bush that it would be a mistake to sign an agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, because it was impossible to make peace with half a nation. He said Israel could not make compromises on refugees and Jerusalem.

Lieberman was less critical of the Annapolis process in his comments. He spoke about the need for exchanges of territory and populations. Olmert made sure that Lieberman spoke to American security officials about Iran at the meal.

Olmert received good news Thursday when polls published found that a majority of Labor members want Labor chairman Ehud Barak to break his promise to remove his party from the government upon the publication of the Winograd Report on January 30.

A Dialogue poll published in Ha'aretz found that 61 percent of Labor voters wanted the party to remain in the government. A Dahaf poll in Yediot Aharonot that asked the same question put the number at 56%.

As a precautionary move in case Labor did leave, Olmert met with United Torah Judaism MK Avraham Ravitz Tuesday and promised him NIS 173 million for haredi educational and cultural institutions and to support Ravitz's proposal to give tax benefits to organ donors. Ravitz hinted that the gesture could be a sign that UTJ would be required in Olmert's coalition.