Israel Army Radio reported today that the U.S. has agreed to release imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for the release of Fatah leader and convicted murderer Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life terms for his role in killing five Israeli civilians.
A similar proposal in 2004, reported by WorldNetDaily, was rejected by Washington and Pollard, himself.
According to today’s reports, Israel is prepared to offer the proposed exchange to the Palestinian Authority within the next few months. Observers see the release of Barghouti as an attempt by Israel to strengthen the Fatah movement against the new government led by Hamas.
Barghouti, now a member of the Palestinian parliament, successfully ran in January’s PA elections, stressing as part of his election platform his efforts in killing Israelis and planning the intifada, which still is raging.
Last October, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asked President Bush during his White House visit to pressure Israel into releasing Barghouti from prison, a senior Palestinian official involved with the talks told WND.
“Abbas asked [Bush] for several things, including the freezing of Israeli settlement activity and to help with the release of our prisoners,” said the official, speaking just minutes after the conclusion of the White House meeting. “A special request was made for Israel to release Barghouti.”
Al-Arabiya, one of the largest Arab media networks in the Mideast, has aired several programs calling for Barghouti to be released in a prisoner exchange deal that also includes Pollard.
Pollard, a former Mossad agent, was arrested for selling U.S. military secrets to Israel in 1985 while working as a naval analyst at the Pentagon. He has been serving a life sentence for espionage for the past 21 years.
Despite years of denial, in 1998 Israel admitted that Pollard was a intelligence agent. The U.S. has refused all previous requests by Israeli officials to pardon or exchange Pollard.
Pollard’s wife, Ester, earlier this week told Israel’s Arutz-7 news agency that “someone close” to Bush had informed her the White House was ready to make the release immediately, “as long as [Israeli Prime Minister-designate Ehud] Olmert makes an official request.” A member of Olmert’s staff, speaking on condition of anonymity, agreed to consider a meeting if Pollard requested it.
In the past, Pollard has said he was “completely opposed” to any release that included a swap for Barghouti, a man he calls “a mass murderer of Jews.”
“I have always been opposed to gaining my freedom in exchange for the release of murderers and terrorists,” Pollard said in 2004. “My position has not changed. I deserve to be released because my sentence is unjust and because the U.S. has promised my release on more than one occasion, including a commitment by the president of the United States at the Wye Summit in 1998.”
Prior to today’s report of the U.S. deal, Pollard had been threatening to pass on secrets about his Mossad handler, Rafi Eitan, according to Agence France-Presse. Eitan, who headed the anti-terrorist branch that handled Pollard, is reportedly set to become a partner in Olmert’s incoming coalition government.
Eitan, Pollard charges, has refused to hand over an important document requested by U.S. officials and by refusing to surrender it, guaranteed Pollard’s continued imprisonment.
Today’s reports did not mention whether Pollard had decided to be part of a swap or if Eitan had released any information.