Pollard wants Israel to admit complicity

JERUSALEM — Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard Sunday rejected the text of a letter signed by Benjamin Netanyahu that was due to be sent to President Clinton, appealing for a pardon for Pollard on Israel's 50th anniversary.

In addition to the prime minister, the letter was also to have been signed by opposition leader Ehud Barak, all the Cabinet ministers and Knesset members from across the political spectrum.

Shortly before the end of Sunday's cabinet meeting, Netanyahu read out the text of the letter and asked the ministers to sign.

"We entreat you to use your authority to grant [Pollard] a pardon for the remainder of his term of imprisonment," the letter to Clinton read. "We base this request on humanitarian grounds.

"Jonathan Pollard has been serving for more than 12 years. During this period, his health has deteriorated and his family life has been completely ruined. He wishes to immigrate to Israel…to live here as a devout Jew."

The stumbling block was the following paragraph of the letter, which, as read out by Netanyahu, said:

"We don't have any claims as regards the legal measures taken against him, in light of the serious actions for which he was convicted, and for which Jonathan Pollard has expressed his deep sorrow and repentance."

This raised the ire of National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon. "It is time to stop all these games," he exploded. "After so many years, it is not possible for Israel not to admit that Pollard was working for such a mission."

Immigration Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein, who has been a staunch supporter of Pollard's stance on the issue, suggested calling him in prison. "Why is there no admission of the fact that Pollard was working for Israel?" Edelstein asked.

Netanyahu then queried: "How do you know that such an admission would help secure Pollard's release?"

Edelstein: "Pollard has been thinking about this nonstop for 13 years — so let's hear his opinion."

At this point, Edelstein contacted Pollard's wife, Esther, in Canada and she spoke to her husband. Pollard requested that the letter be frozen until the government comes out with an unequivocal statement that he was an Israeli agent or until it is ordered to do so by the High Court of Justice, which he has petitioned.

Cabinet Secretary Dan Naveh deleted the offensive paragraph.

"The text of the letter as it stands now will do more harm than good," Pollard said in an urgent memo to Naveh later. "The critical element missing from the letter is Israel's acknowledging responsibility for me and for the operation…

"All our Washington sources tell me that the administration is waiting for a definitive sign from the government of Israel to unequivocally acknowledge me as its agent and to admit this was a sanctioned operation…

"Once Israel makes the request in these terms, the U.S. would finally be in the position to accede to Israel's request," Pollard said.