Analysis |

Bibi's Pollard Paradox: He'll Wind Up Bringing Olmert Back

The PM's demand that the U.S. free the spy also serves Israeli Arabs convicted of terrorism.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Amir Oren
Amir Oren

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is bored.

There’s no challenger in sight for the next election. He may seem vulnerable, because his Likud party controls just one-sixth of the Knesset and his voter approval rating doesn’t exceed 33 percent, but in the absence of an obvious alternative, Netanyahu is the very embodiment of the default option.

This is bad for Israel and bad even for Netanyahu. If the election does not appear to be a duel for the premiership, an alliance of small and midsize parties is liable to put up a joint candidate who is stronger than Netanyahu. If he wants the right to rally around him, Netanyahu needs a foil who is his polar opposite.

The only contender for this role is former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose legal problems all but rule out a return to politics. He was convicted of breach of trust in one case, the state has appealed his acquittal on additional corruption charges and a verdict is expected soon in the Holyland trial, in which he has been charged with taking bribes to promote a Jerusalem real estate project.

Olmert avoided having the label of “moral turpitude” affixed to his conviction, which entails restrictions on political activity, because he announced his retirement from public life. But the prosecution will not let him exploit this situation to engineer his return to politics. If he tries, the state will ask the court for a finding of moral turpitude.

Olmert’s only avenue of salvation is a pardon, a comprehensive, pardon that washes away all sins, makes bacon kosher, erases criminal records and leaves him squeaky clean. This kind of pardon requires legislation to pave the way. And it’s all because of Jonathan Pollard.

Netanyahu hopes to use the Jewish American spy who is serving a life sentence in a North Carolina Federal prison for spying on behalf of Israel to ease the pain of releasing Palestinian killers from Israeli jails. He has submitted to the logic of the peace process, exactly as he submitted to terror in negotiating the release of Gilad Shalit, but he lacks the courage to admit it.

The prime minister’s spokesmen trip over themselves trying to explain that Netanyahu is different from his predecessors. Well, yes, they say, he did release terrorists, but he did it with a heavy heart, not joyfully, like other prime ministers, or like leftists, may their names be erased.

In order to erase the stain of freezing settlement construction at the end of the last decade, Netanyahu chose to release killers rather than renew the freeze. Once that was decided, all that remained open was the price: Would Israeli Arabs be released, or only Palestinians?

Israel opposes any external entity — the Palestinian Authority, Hamas or Hezbollah — infringing on its sovereignty and altering the accepted prisoner-swap protocol. Israel denies that it set the precedent, in its treatment of Pollard. Pollard, a U.S. citizen was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1987 by the authorities of his country because he violated its laws. Along came another country and gave him citizenship, based on its own domestic laws that allow it to grant citizenship to foreigners as long as they are of the Jewish religion. Any country can use such a maneuver, demanding that Israel release criminals with dual citizenship.

In the Pollard case, not only was the spy himself punished, but so was the country for which he stole secrets. That’s why Israel was compelled to accept dictates like dismantling the Defense Ministry’s Scientific Liaison Bureau, the supposedly renegade unit that Israeli officials said recruited Pollard. It was also compelled to dismiss the bureau’s head, Rafael Eitan, and to stall the military career of Maj. Gen. Aviem Sella, said to have been the first of Pollard’s handlers. Two government inquiry committees were established, as was a Knesset inquiry committee whose members included Olmert.

Olmert was tasked with protecting two of his party’s senior officials: Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir and Moshe Arens, who were prime minister and defense minister, respectively, when the Israeli government first came into contact with Pollard. Olmert was also supposed to attack the successors of Shamir and Arens: Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, the leaders on whose watch Pollard handed over the promised material, was caught and was incriminated, partly due to the forced cooperation of Peres, Shamir and Rabin with the U.S. government.

Though Likud tried to ignore its responsibility to Pollard and send him into the arms of the Labor Party in the 1980s, he has now become a point of pride, and even a counterweight to those who killed Israelis or Israeli intelligence sources in the territories – the so-called collaborators who were essentially Palestinian Pollards of a sort.

But if Arab citizens of Israel who carried out terror attacks are freed, it is conceivable that Jewish citizens of Israel who were convicted of similar offenses won’t be? And if security prisoners are

released, can it be that killers who weren’t motivated by terrorism are kept behind bars, when terror attacks are always depicted as being more serious than regular crime? And if killers are freed, how do you justify keeping former President Moshe Katsav in prison, not to mention your run-of-the-mill rapists, thieves and embezzlers? And what’s the point of continuing legal proceedings against anyone who hasn’t yet been convicted and might not get the benefit of a pardon? Where is the justice?

Through this chain of events, Netanyahu will end up cleansing Olmert (as well as setting the stage for former MK Azmi Bishara to come back to Israel as a hero, after having fled in 2007 amid accusations of betrayal). It’s all because of boredom, and the fear of a peace agreement.

Demonstrating for Pollard's release outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, in 2011.Credit: AP

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