Pollards status unchanged despite Israels admission

JERUSALEM — When Israel confirmed in late spring that Jonathan Pollard had served as its agent, Pollard and his supporters viewed the act as the first significant step the government had taken in years to win his release.

But now, once again, despair is returning. Pollard and his advocates say the government has not followed up on its acknowledgment. Instead, they claim, the government is consumed by the negotiations with Washington over the implementation of the interim agreement with the Palestinians.

They say the result is that a golden opportunity to start fast-track talks with the United States to secure Pollard's release is being frittered away.

"That's where it started, and it has gone downhill ever since," Pollard's wife, Esther, said this summer. "Now, Jonathan is more alone than ever before."

Vice President Al Gore and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger recently met with senior Israeli government officials to discuss Pollard's situation.

There have been several meetings — including one between Gore and Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky in July — since Israel officially confirmed that Pollard was its agent. But the Americans reportedly requested that the issue be kept under wraps.

However, Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein was set to leave Wednesday for Washington to lobby openly on Capitol Hill at the official behest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Edelstein will meet with senators and congressmen on committees related to Pollard's former position as a Naval Intelligence officer.

But this week Esther Pollard denounced Edelstein's planned visit as "a smoke screen designed to fool the Israeli public."

On Monday, she said the Israeli government had "not done any groundwork. It did not set up meetings for Edelstein and did not engage AIPAC to help," she said. "This signals to the American public that Israel has no serious intent."

As a result, Pollard still feels that he's been put on the backburner.

Earlier this summer, Esther Pollard said she had been told by officials that her husband's case would be raised with the United States as the last element in an agreement on Israel Defense Force redeployment in the West Bank.

As one official reportedly explained it, the United States would make some last-minute demands for concessions from the Israelis that would include a full handover of 13.1 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority. In response, Israel would demand Pollard's release.

But an inner cabinet meeting in July, the Pollards said, dashed those hopes. The couple were furious that during ministerial deliberations on the peace negotiations, the Pollard release was not raised.

The Pollards are convinced they were lied to.

"The fact that the inner cabinet was ready to vote shows their duplicity," Pollard said from the federal prison in Butner, North Carolina.

These latest tensions between the Pollards and the Israeli government characterize their relationship over the past five years.

For the first few years following Pollard's arrest by FBI agents outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington in 1985 and his being sentenced to life in prison a year later, he was repeatedly told by Israeli officials that they would work for his release.

At first, Pollard believed them. But by the early 1990s, he came to the conclusion that he would never leave his jail cell without waging a fight.

That meant declaring his independence from the Israeli government and developing his own strategy, based on high-profile lobbying in Washington and Jerusalem, as well as establishing a formal bond between himself and Israel.

So, in 1995, Pollard demanded Israeli citizenship. Then-Interior Minister Ehud Barak refused the request, and Pollard took his case to the High Court of Justice.

Barak eventually relented when he realized that Pollard's petition to the High Court could force Israel to answer embarrassing questions regarding its accountability to the convicted spy. Pollard received his Israeli passport in January 1996.

Last year, Pollard returned to the High Court. This time, he demanded that the court order the Israeli government to reveal who was in charge of his case and what steps had been taken to secure the release.

Pollard's aim was to force Israel to renounce its earlier claims that he was part of an operation never approved by government leaders.

The Israeli declaration acknowledging him as an agent, engineered by cabinet secretary Dan Naveh, came on May 11, over the objections of Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai and his aides.

Naveh stresses that Israel has not shelved the issue.

"The government is fully committed to the release of Jonathan Pollard," he said. "The essence of the announcement is a major step. We are doing certain things to free him. We can't say everything in public."

Naveh would not confirm the Pollards' assertion that Jonathan's release had been promised as an element in the negotiations with the White House for an IDF redeployment. Nor did he deny that the redeployment issue was holding up Israeli efforts to win his release.

Another government official involved in the Pollard issue said the government announcement that acknowledged Pollard was an authorized spy was a mistake.

"In the end, it didn't make one bit of difference," he said. "They simply don't want to deal with the issue in Washington."

Instead, the official said, the Israeli strategy must be to stress the humanitarian aspect of Pollard's case. He has been in prison for 13 years, more than most people convicted of espionage, including those who have spied for the Soviet Union.