White House, CIA ignore reported Pollard gambit
The Obama administration is publicly ignoring a reported offer from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend a settlements freeze in exchange for the release of Jonathan Pollard, the convicted Israeli spy.
Pressure to release Pollard, serving a life sentence since 1987 for providing thousands of secret documents to Israel, arises regularly, spurred by Pollard’s wife Esther and right-wing parties in Jerusalem.
But an even more powerful backlash from national security officials in Washington has repeatedly derailed the idea. Pollard also sold secrets to South Africa and advertised his services to Pakistan, they point out, while Israel used some of the documents he gave them as barter for favors from Moscow.
During Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations at the Wye Plantation in 1998, CIA Director George Tenet famously threatened to resign when the Clinton White House entertained the idea of Pollard's release.
It hasn’t been seriously considered since.
Today the idea provoked silence from the White House, where officials said they would have no comment. At the CIA, senior officials said the idea hadn’t even come up for discussion.
“It’s not a new development,” said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic issues. “They deploy all the time.”
An Israeli Embassy spokesman in Washington had no immediate comment.
The latest Pollard feeler first arose Monday on the Israeli Army radio station.
“Army radio said that Netanyahu had asked an unnamed intermediary to sound out the Obama administration on the proposal, but it is not known what response was received,” The Guardian of London reported. “Other Israeli media reported that the prime minister dispatched the intermediary to approach the Americans ‘discreetly, and unofficially.’”
Settler groups responded angrily to the suggestion of a three-month freeze for Pollard, according to reports.
Jonathan Broder, the senior editor for Defense and Foreign Policy at
Congressional Quarterly Weekly, who has reported extensively on Israel over the years, said Netanyahu’s alleged overture was more than just a gesture to his right-wing allies.
Netanyahu "has tried this before, i.e. to link Israeli concessions in peace talks to a Pollard release," Broder said by email. "One can only assume he thinks this might mollify the right. But judging from the negative reaction of the settler groups, getting Pollard back is not worth a freeze to them.”
Likewise for the Obama White House, incremental progress on the settlements is not worth agitating CIA officials, who are still seething over the Justice Department’s investigation into whether its interrogations of suspected terrorists were illegal.
Broder called floating Pollard's release “an opening gambit for an extension of the freeze. But if Obama signals it won't fly, you can be sure that Bibi [Netanyahu's nickname] has a Plan B wish list.”
| September 21, 2010; 6:20 PM ET
Categories: Foreign policy, Intelligence, Lawandcourts
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