Dispute over jailed spy delayed deal

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The Independent Online
JONATHAN JAY Pollard, whose release snagged the three- cornered United States-Israeli-Palestinian talks at the last minute yesterday, has been in prison in the US for the past 12 years after admitting one count of spying for Israel while working as a US Navy analyst. Since then, the American authorities have refused all requests from his family and from successive Israeli governments for him to be released to Israel, for his sentence to be commuted or even for parole.

That Pollard's fate was raised at the Wye talks puts another gloss on the participation of the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet. Until yesterday, his role was thought to be related only to possible CIA help with implementing and monitoring a security agreement.

As became clear yesterday, the Pollard case is hugely controversial. His original sentence in 1985 provoked an outcry in Israel, where many claimed that he was a victim of anti-Semitism. In the US, the case was a major diplomatic embarrassment as it suggested that Israel was engaged in spying on its chief ally and patron. Perhaps for that reason, successive Israeli leaders insisted that Pollard worked not for Israel itself, but for an extreme pro-Israel group.

Nonetheless, Pollard's name has been raised by the Israeli side at almost every bilateral and regional meeting with US officials. And in 1995, Pollard petitioned for - and received - Israeli citizenship.

Officially, however, President Bill Clinton has taken as tough a line on Pollard as his two Republican predecessors. Two years ago, he said that "the enormity of Mr Pollard's offences, his lack of remorse, the damage done to our national security, and the need for general deterrence and the continuing threat to national security that he posed" warranted the sentence of life imprisonment. Pollard was convicted of passing to his Israeli contact hundreds of top secret documents.

Yesterday's report that Pollard might be allowed to go to Israel immediately raised ferocious passions. His lawyer said it would "right a historical wrong". But there was extreme hostility, verging on disbelief, in judiciary and security quarters.

The "understanding" reached, for an inquiry into Pollard's case, represents a classic delaying tactic but also a classic solution. Pollard could well be released, quietly and perhaps to a third country rather than direct to Israel, within months, if not weeks.