Background: PM Ariel Sharon tried to release Barghouti, not Pollard

Justice4JPnews - April 7, 2008

Why did former Israeli Ambassador Danny Ayalon wait years to come forward with the claim that he personally participated in an initiative by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon allegedly intended to free Jonathan Pollard?

In a compelling and well-researched expose in the Hebrew media, "Who's afraid of Pollard?" [Makor Rishon 4/4/08] investigative journalist Pazeet Ravina recalls Danny Ayalon coming forward last year [June 2007] to tell of a private conversation with American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice which took place years ago, in which he presented a proposal by then-PM Ariel Sharon to release Marwan Barghouti in return for Pollard.

Subtitled "Sharon Also Tried", Ravina reports that according to Ayalon, Rice rejected the deal out of hand, at the meeting which occurred prior to Israel's withdrawal from Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron in 2005. [See related INN article.]

The trouble with the release of Danny Ayalon's story is its timing. In fact, the timing was no coincidence.

The story hit the Israeli media last year at precisely the time that Ehud Olmert needed the credibility of the comatose former prime minister to act as political insulation when his cabinet ministers began issuing calls for the release of Marwan Barghouti.

Barghouti, as should be recalled, is serving 5 life sentences plus 40 years for the murder of Israeli citizens. Ayalon was enlisted to tell his story so that the great General Arik Sharon - not Olmert - would be perceived as the originator of the plan to free the Palestinian mass murderer. Ayalon's timely revelation thus provided Olmert with the cover he needs to release Barghouti with political with impunity, when the time comes.

So why did Sharon send Ayalon to propose the deal to Rice years ago, instead of doing the job himself with Bush?

Sources in Washington report that Sharon sent Ayalon to speak with Rice about a possible swap, only to "feel out" the Americans and see if they were willing to assist in a deal to free Barghouti - something which Israel clearly wanted. However, there was no American interest in Barghouti at that time, which is why the deal was rejected. Instead, at that time, just prior to the Palestinian elections, the Americans were placing their money on Abu Mazen as their proxy "to lead the Palestinian people."

In the ensuing years, the Americans have come to realize that Abu Mazen looks good in a suit and speaks English well enough, but either can't or won't deliver the goods. He is not the "strong leader" that they hoped he would be. Consequently, years later, the Americans are finally amenable and even eager to see Barghouti released to take over where Abu Mazen has failed. Nevetheless, to protect Barghouti's image with the Palestinian street, all parties are aware that it must appear as if a high price is to be paid for releasing Barghouti, lest he be perceived as a collaborator.

If that is the case, why is it that the request for a Pollard - Barghouti swap has never again been raised by Israel? Simply put: Olmert found another card to "trade" for Barghouti, a young soldier named Gilad Shalit, so the Pollard card has been completely shelved.

To conclude: in the interests of keeping the record straight, Ariel Sharon did indeed try to release a prisoner, but it was not Pollard. It was the mass murderer, Marwan Barghouti. Pollard was just a means to an end.

After all, if Sharon had really wanted to free Pollard (as opposed to freeing Barghouti) he knew that this was a deal that could only be negotiated at the highest level, directly between the Prime Minister and the President.

It should be noted that Esther and Jonathan Pollard have always been and continue to be opposed to the release of terrorists and murderers for any reason. [See Jonathan Pollard's speech: "Don't Trade Me for Barghouti"]

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