JERUSALEM – A popular Arab television network is lobbying for a deal in which a convicted terrorist running in upcoming Palestinian elections would be freed from Israeli prison in exchange for the U.S. release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.
The developments come a year after Pollard first exposed the potential deal when he told WorldNetDaily he learned he may be exchanged for the terrorist leader, Marwan Barghouti, who has been convicted of several counts of murder.
Pollard is on record as opposed to the possibility of being released from prison in a deal that would also release Barghouti, whom he refers to as “a mass murderer of Jews.”
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid, director of the popular Arab satellite television network Al-Arabiya wrote this week in an editorial, “The release of Marwan Barghouti from Israeli jail is dependent upon the release of Jonathan Pollard from his American imprisonment.”
Al-Arabiya is one of the largest Arab media networks. It has aired several programs calling for Barghouti to be released in a prisoner exchange deal that also includes Pollard.
Al-Rashid wrote Barghouti is “sitting in jail in the name of all Palestinians, and by virtue of his struggle, a Palestinian state is about to arise.” Al-Rashid also credited Barghouti-directed “resistance” with bringing about Israel’s withdrawal this past summer from the Gaza Strip.
Barghouti, founder of the terror group Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, is serving multiple life terms for his role in killings Israeli civilians. Security officials say Barghouti was the architect of the Palestinian intifada that began in 2000. Al Aqsa has carried out scores of suicide bombings and deadly shooting attacks and has fired hundreds of rockets at Israeli towns.
Barghouti is one of several terrorists running in Palestinian elections currently scheduled for next month. He was elected yesterday to head the national list of candidates for PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.
WND first broke the story in 2004 exposing the possibility of a prisoner exchange deal involving Barghouti and Pollard. At the time, Pollard told WND he was informed by associates close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Israel was looking to free Barghouti.
Pollard, an Israeli agent serving his 21st year in prison, told WND he remains strongly opposed to any deal to trade him for a convicted murderer and terrorist
Pollard worked as a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst and was convicted in 1985 of one count of passing classified information to an ally, Israel, and sentenced to life imprisonment in spite of a plea agreement that was to spare him a life sentence.
Pollard’s sentence is considered by many to be disproportionate to the crime for which he was convicted – he is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally. The median sentence for this particular offense is two to four years.
The unprecedented sentence was largely thought to have been driven by a last-minute secret memorandum from Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, in which he accused Pollard of treason – a crime for which he was never indicted – and claimed Pollard harmed America’s national security.
But even Weinberger now says the sentence may be about something else.
Weinberger said in a recent interview that the Pollard issue “is a very minor matter, but made very important. … It was made far bigger than its actual importance.”
Pollard previously told WND the information he passed to Israel forewarned the Jewish state about the build-up of unconventional weapons of war in neighboring Arab countries, including the build-up of arms by Saddam Hussein for use against Israel.
There have been deals in the past in which the U.S. promised to release Pollard, who has been the subject of major protest rallies in Israel in recent years that have been intensifying the past few months.
Prior to the signing of the 1998 Wye River Israeli-Palestinian Accords, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was told by President Bill Clinton that Pollard would be released as part of a deal that also would free 750 Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons. Netanyahu signed off on the accords, later saying the freeing of Pollard was for him the deal maker. But Clinton reneged and kept Pollard imprisoned.
Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, a key Wye negotiator, later wrote in his book about the negotiations, “The Missing Peace,” that Pollard’s “unjust” sentence made him eligible for release. But Ross writes he cautioned Clinton against releasing Pollard, saying the Israeli spy was too important a “political bargaining chip.”
“[Pollard’s release] would be a huge payoff [for Israel]; you don’t have many like it in your pocket … You will need it later, don’t use it now,” writes Ross.
Meanwhile, polls are now showing most Palestinians favor Barghouti as a leader.
Earlier this month, Barghouti bolted the ruling Fatah party and formed his own faction, but yesterday decided to rejoin in Fatah.
In a statement from prison, Barghouti called on all Fatah candidates “to unite and act immediately to create one united list for Fatah.” He also expressed support for Palestinian terror groups, including Hamas, to run in the Jan. 25 elections.
Officially, Israel has said it is opposed to releasing Barghouti, but several Israeli officials have stated Sharon might free the senior terrorist at some point.
Prior to Israel’s Gaza withdrawal, Israeli Interior Minister Avraham Poraz speculated, “We are looking for a partner for the Gaza withdrawal. It seems that this will have to include releasing prisoners … [perhaps even] including Barghouti.”
Far-leftist Israeli lawmaker Yossi Beilin, an architect of the Oslo Accords, claimed releasing Barghouti would help promote democracy in the PA.
“Barghouti heads one of the Palestinian camps that do want peace,” Beilin said, “and so this is the moment to end his sentence … in preparation for an historical peace agreement with Israel.”
Recently asked if he supported freeing Barghouti, Israeli Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit replied, “never say never.”
Barghouti himself has said he is confident he will be released soon.
In an interview this past summer with Israel’s leading newspaper Yediot Aharonot, Barghouti, speaking from his prison cell, boasted, “By the end of this year, I will be out of here”