Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Pollard would not reject release in political deal


Deal expected to pass without coalition crisis; parole hearing postponed due to pending litigation, not Pollard's rejection of peace deal.

Jonathan Pollard
Jonathan Pollard Photo: Courtesy of Justice for Jonathan Pollard
Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard would not turn down an opportunity to receive presidential commutation of his life sentence as part of an agreement in which Palestinian and Israeli prisoners are released, well-placed sources told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday.

Pollard's release would be presented as a gesture to Israel by US president Barack Obama, who has made similar gestures to Russia. Commuting Pollard's life sentence to the 28 and a half years he has served may not be considered an official part of the deal.

The sources said that Pollard, whose health continues to deteriorate, understood that the only way for him to be released from prison alive was via such an agreement. They vigorously denied reports that he had rejected a parole hearing due to opposition to being included in such a deal.

Sources knowledgeable about the legal initiatives to secure Pollard's release said his lawyers had merely asked to postpone the hearing due to pending litigation. Pollard's attorneys have been fighting for access to classified information in his sentencing file that the government intends to use against him in the hearing.

The file includes classified portions of a memorandum written by the late American defense secretary Caspar Weinberger that was used to incriminate Pollard but has since been discredited by top American security officials who worked closely with Weinberger at the time. The officials, who have read the classified documents, said they contained grave factual errors.

The second reason Pollard requested to delay the hearing was due to his failing health. While the ongoing political efforts to bring about Pollard's release were not connected to the request to delay the hearing, presidential clemency would be much more beneficial to Pollard than parole.

Rather than set Pollard completely free, parole would merely "release him to community supervision." His sentence would continue for another 15 years, during which he could be rearrested or at least prevented from leaving the US.

Pollard's release is not expected to be blocked by either Israeli or Palestinian politicians. Statements by Abbas against a deal were dismissed as posturing in an effort to sweeten the deal.

The only ministers who have openly said they would oppose a prisoner exchange that includes Pollard are Uzi Landau and Yair Shamir of Yisrael Beytenu and Israel Katz of Likud. Katz said the deal was not ethical and was unfair to Pollard.

Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel condemned the United States for not releasing Pollard due to the merits of his case. But officials in his party were careful Tuesday not to say that they would leave Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition over the deal.

Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said he would quit his post over the deal even if Pollard was included. He callled upon Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett to follow suit.

"This is a cynical attempt by [US Secretary of State John] Kerry and Netanyahu to add Pollard in order to justify releasing murderers who wll return to terror," Danon said.

Similar statements were made at a rally of the Almagor organization of terror victims outside Netanyahu's residence. At the rally, Yaakov Tubul, whose son Lior's murderer would be released in the deal, read a letter from Pollard from several years ago opposing a trade for Palestinian murderer Marwan Barghouti. The rally was also attended by relatives of the Fogel and Applebaum families, whose members were killed in high profile terror attacks.

"America is holding Pollard hostage to be used as a bargaining chip to bring about the release of murderers," Almagor head Meir Indor said. "It harms Pollard to be equated with murderers by making such a deal."

The Obama administration considers releasing Pollard an option in its limited toolkit on how to handle floundering peace talks.

But while the decision of whether to release him now rests with  Obama, he has not yet made up his mind, one US source told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

Pollard's fate is now "on the president's desk," the official said.

"The president has not made a decision to release Jonathan Pollard," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Tuesday. "There are obviously a lot of things happening in that arena, and I'm not going to get ahead of discussions that are under way."

Both Democratic and Republican leadership in the Senate expressed deep skepticism at the prospect of Pollard's release on Tuesday.

“This was a major betrayal and I’ve followed it over the years," Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the intelligence committee, told The Daily Beast. "It’s one thing if there’s an agreement. It’s another thing totally if there isn’t." Her Republican counterpart, Senator Saxby Chambliss, said that the US should never release Pollard, who he said had done "a lot of harm to America."

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