The Man Who Knew Too Much

October 29, 1998 - The New Jersey Jewish News, Editorial

Pollard for peace? That was the spin put on the attempt to throw Jonathan Pollard into the give and take that came together last week at the Wye summit.

The last minute demand was made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after everything was all sewn up. "No Pollard?" Bibi reportedly told United States President and summit host Bill Clinton. "Then no deal."

But the deal got done, without Pollard. Was it merely posturing by Bibi, to appease a domestic right wing likely to feel abandoned by the decision to hand over 13 percent of the land of Israel? That's what Pollard suggested to us two weeks ago when the report that his release would be agreed upon at Wye was first reported in Yediot Ahronot (NJJN, Oct. 8).

And what has Pollard to do with peace, anyway? That was the point raised by several Jewish leaders and groups, including the Association of Reform Zionists of America, which supports Pollard's release. (Pollard dismisses the idea that he has nothing to do with the peace process as "chutzpa.")

Here's what we believe actually happened, based on conversations with a number of people directly involved or concerned with the events at Wye.

Wye marked the return to center stage of Ariel Sharon, now Israel's foreign minister. Sharon was the political patron of Rafi ("the stinker") Eitan, the spy master (and current Cuban farmer) heading the special unit that ran Pollard. Sharon is also the only member of the Israeli cabinet who was in the cabinet when Pollard was arrested outside Israel's embassy in 1986.

According to some sources, it was Sharon who "pushed the envelope" on the Pollard matter. Interviewed after it became clear that his son would not be released, Morris Pollard said he had hoped that with "Sharon there it would get done."

But the idea for linking Pollard to the overall deal actually came from the Palestinians!

It was the Palestinians who told the Americans to offer the Israelis Pollard in exchange for dropping their demand to extradite Palestinian police commander Ghazi Jabali.

Netanyahu had demanded Jabali's extradition during his first Wye meeting with Arafat. Arafat turned him down flat. According to Ha'aretz columnist Akiva Eldar, Bibi came back with a new offer if Arafat could get Egypt to release imprisoned Israeli Azam Azam, Israel would drop the Jabali matter.

The issue died there, as Sharon finally arrived at Wye. Then after the security package was agreed upon, the Palestinians made their Pollard-for-Jabali offer. Bibi agreed. According to our source, so did Clinton. Others think what we had here was a failure to communicate. "What you had here was a president who likes to say what he thinks his listeners want to hear and a prime minister who heard what he wanted to hear."

What Bibi heard at 4 a.m. Friday was a commitment from Clinton to provide a side-letter promising Pollard's release. Then the CIA the same CIA that will take on the key role monitoring Palestinian compliance went to "battle stations" to kill the Pollard deal.

The biggest surprise came when House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) told Clinton not to release Pollard because the former U.S. naval intelligence analyst still has knowledge of classified secrets that he may sell to a foreign nation upon his release. America, he said, should not put "traitors on the negotiating table as a pawn."

Apparently, Gingrich takes the intelligence community line that Pollard should never get out. "I hope the administration will now say they will not, under any circumstance, release Pollard," the speaker said.

Also speaking against Pollard's release was Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Shelby (R-AL). In a letter, Shelby wrote Friday that "Pollard's treachery touches on not merely the national security information revealed without authorization, but on the trust which underpins our system of safeguarding classified information."

This was a version of the same argument we had heard the week before from a U.S. senator who told us that Pollard had spied for pay for other countries before dealing with Israel, and from a Senate staffer who told us the argument that Pollard still knew too much.

"I was massacred on Capitol Hill," Pollard told us.

It wasn't only the CIA that swayed Gingrich. The speaker resented a report that the Israeli embassy had told Yuli Edelstein not to bother lobbying Gingrich when the cabinet minister was in Washington awhile back.

Edelstein's goal was to convince GOP lawmakers not to beat up on Clinton should he agree at Wye to release Pollard. Gingrich is in our hip pocket, the embassy reportedly advised Edelstein. To add insult to injury, Gingrich thought he had been promised some kind of visible role during the Wye talks. Instead, all the credit went to Clinton, just days before the mid-term elections (which is to Gingrich what the current Knesset fights are to Bibi).

Later Friday morning, Bill told Bibi that an oral commitment is not a commitment (sound familiar?), and the prime minister responded, "I paid for Pollard."

"Did I give you anything in writing?" Clinton reportedly replied. Sharon and Natan Sharansky told Bibi that without Pollard, it was best to return home without an agreement. After all, Israel would be agreeing to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, most convicted of violent offenses. And Bibi's government had pledged to Pollard's advocates that no more Palestinian prisoners would be released unless Pollard was as well. Harsh words were exchanged. The Israelis blinked first.

At the signing, Clinton pledged to "review the [Pollard] matter seriously," but gave "no commitment as to the outcome of this review." Our sources tell us that the outcome is a certain "no."

If that's the story of how Jonathan Pollard's fate surfaced and sank again at the Wye peace talks, we still can't answer one big question: Why does the CIA remain so adamantly opposed to his release that it would force the President to back out of a deal?

See Also:
  • Peace process or spin politics?