Is Jonathan Pollard a Camp David bargaining chip?

July 14, 2000|By Dan Naveh

JERUSALEM -- President Clinton has convened a summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat at Camp David to attempt to work out a historic final arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians.

This summit affords Mr. Clinton a last chance to honor his commitment to the people of Israel to free Jonathan Pollard.

Before the Wye summit in October 1998, Mr. Clinton promised the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, that he would free Pollard.

Mr. Clinton reaffirmed this commitment, and the details were worked out in the course of the negotiations at the Wye River Plantation, which led to the signing of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. I was a witness to the deal.

Nevertheless, in the early hours of the final morning of the summit -- really at the very last moment -- Mr. Clinton reneged. He informed the prime minister that he could not honor his commitment. The president's excuse was that George Tenet, the director of the CIA, would resign if Pollard were released.

As his term in office ends, Mr. Clinton will be remembered by the people of Israel either as a man who gave his word to the prime minister and kept it or as a man who gave his word but did not keep it.

The open wound in U.S.-Israel relations caused by the Pollard affair has been bleeding for 15 years. Pollard has long since expressed remorse for his actions, and Israel has done so as well. In May 1998, Mr. Netanyahu granted Pollard official recognition as an Israeli agent. This decision laid the groundwork for a resolution of the Pollard case between the prime minister and Mr. Clinton.

There is no doubt in my mind that running Pollard as an agent in the United States was a grave mistake on the part of those officials who enlisted him on behalf of Israel. It was unconscionable to have allowed a situation to exist in which officials in Jerusalem were running a spy in the United States -- a country that is the closest ally and strongest friend of Israel.

The punishment meted out to Pollard was the harshest possible and completely unprecedented when compared with others who have committed similar offenses in the United States. Fifteen years later, the time has come for Israel and the United States to put the Pollard affair behind them and to allow the wounds to heal. This is a humanitarian issue of the highest order.

Following Mr. Tenet's original threat to resign at Wye, Mr. Clinton released 14 unrepentant Puerto Rican terrorists, members of the Armed Forces of the National Liberation (FALN). He granted them presidential clemency despite a solid wall of opposition from Mr. Tenet, Congress and all of his Justice Department, Pentagon and intelligence advisers. But Pollard continues to languish in prison.

Since the Wye summit, Prime Minister Ehud Barak has released numerous Palestinian terrorists who have murdered innocent Israeli citizens. But Pollard continues to languish in prison.

Even after Mr. Clinton reneged on his promise at Wye to free Pollard, there were renewed hopes because he promised to conduct a speedy review of the Pollard case. The understanding was that the forthcoming release of Palestinians terrorists would bring about a parallel gesture on the part of Mr. Clinton -- namely, Pollard's release. But this did not occur. The terrorists were released, Pollard was not.

The president of the United States has, on other occasions, demonstrated his ability to reach out to the Israeli people. The end of Mr. Clinton's term in office represents a never-to-be-repeated golden opportunity to honor the commitment he made at Wye and to demonstrate true generosity of spirit to the people of Israel.

Popular support in Israel for Pollard's release cuts across all political lines. There is a broad national consensus on the issue. According to reliable statistical data, 80 percent of Israelis expect Mr. Clinton to release Pollard.

Israelis understand the seriousness of the offense that was committed by Pollard; no one makes light of it. But at the same time, Israelis do not understand why particularly Pollard -- who has expressed remorse -- remains in prison while other unrepentant criminals, terrorists and spies who have committed far more serious offenses have been released after serving much lighter sentences.

Most Israelis do not understand why Mr. Clinton still has not kept his promise to release Pollard. Most Israelis will be left with a very bitter taste toward the Clinton administration if the president does not use the time he has left in the White House to free Pollard. The Camp David summit among Mr. Barak, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Arafat is the ideal opportunity to do so.

Dan Naveh is a member of the Israeli parliament from the Likud Party and was Cabinet secretary and head of the Israeli team negotiating with the Palestinians for the government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

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