Gamble at Wye summit thrusts Pollard into limelight

Before departing Washington, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Clinton to "find mercy" and release Pollard, who is now an Israeli citizen.

But President Clinton promised only to once again "review this matter seriously."

Speculation on the matter includes one scenario of a secret deal in which Clinton will release Pollard following the November elections.

Asked by Israel's Channel 1 if he had an understanding with Clinton about an eventual release, Netanyahu said: "This is not something I brought up in the last minute. It was something I had already discussed with him on my previous visit to the United States."

Pollard, however, had no good words for Netanyahu.

"You cannot sit with the Americans and pretend to be a guardian of Israel's security, while you sit back and let one of your own agents rot," Pollard told Israel's Army Radio.

Pollard's immediate picture does look bleak.

U.S. intelligence officials and lawmakers were quick to lambast Clinton for even considering Pollard's release.

Joseph diGenova, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted Pollard for the Reagan administration, said releasing him would be "one of the most disgraceful acts by an American president in the history of this country."

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) demanded that Clinton cancel the review.

"I think it would be a tremendous mistake for the United States to start putting traitors on the negotiating tables as a pawn, and I hope the administration will now say they will not, under any circumstance, release Pollard."

Netanyahu and his predecessors have raised the issue in countless meetings with Presidents Clinton, Bush and Reagan — ever since the former U.S. naval intelligence analyst was sentenced in 1987 to life in prison for spying for Israel.

The Clinton administration has reviewed the Pollard case twice before. During the last review in 1996, Clinton did not grant him executive clemency because of the "enormity" of his offenses, "his lack of remorse" and "the damage done to our national security."

Exactly what transpired regarding Pollard in the frenetic, final hours leading up to last Friday's White House signing remains a subject of speculation.

It is known that the Israelis and Palestinians had reached an impasse in the negotiations over Israel's demand that the Palestinians arrest Ghazi Jabali, the Gaza Strip police chief.

When it became clear that neither side would budge, the Israelis and Palestinians cooperated in asking the Americans for Pollard's freedom in exchange for Israel dropping its demand for Jabali's arrest and agreeing to release additional Palestinian prisoners.

Netanyahu believed that Clinton agreed to hand over Pollard at a later date, but the plan broke down when Clinton failed to deliver written assurances and the story about a Pollard deal was leaked to the press.

American Jewish leaders who have been pushing for Pollard's release voiced differing views.

Rabbi Avi Weiss, one of Pollard's leading advocates over the years, said he was particularly concerned by Gingrich's comments, which he said risked turning Pollard into a "political issue."

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the negative reaction from U.S. officials and politicians that erupted following news of Pollard's possible release was "quite astounding."

"I don't know what impact that will have, but frankly until now nothing else has helped either, so I don't think you can really evaluate whether this was a setback or not."