Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter to US President Barack Obama on Tuesday asking him to pardon spy Jonathan Pollard. The White House issued a statement in response saying it will review the letter.
The prime minister addressed the Knesset plenum Tuesday in a debate titled "The failure of the Netanyahu administration in the political, economic and social realms." A total of 40 Knesset members signed an appeal to hold the debate thus forcing Netanyahu to attend.
In his speech, Netanyahu detailed efforts that have been made along the years to free Pollard. He noted that he received a letter from Pollard two weeks ago pleading him to publicly approach the US president and ask for his release.
"After 25 years that Jonathan has spent in jail and after 15 years of failed efforts to release him, I have decided to grant this request and I do this openly, here, from the Knesset podium in a step that represents and unites all the people of Israel," he said.
Netanyahu read the letter he sent to Obama in which he noted that despite the fact that Israel had not directed any intelligence efforts against the US, it was wrong in doing what it did and had acted in an unacceptable manner. The letter further noted that both Pollard and Israel's governments have regretted these acts and that Israel continues to pledge never to repeat such acts in the future.
Netanyahu wrote to Obama that he had raised the matter of Pollard's release many times in meetings with US officials, past and present. He noted that many former senior US officials as well as congressmen who are familiar with the issue share his view and support releasing the spy.
'Jewish people will be forever thankful'
The prime minister closed his letter by saying that as far as Israel is aware Pollard has served more time in jail than any other person convicted of similar charges. He noted that Pollard's health has deteriorated considerably and stressed that the Jewish people will forever be thankful to Obama should he choose to free the spy.
Meanwhile, the French news agency reported Tuesday that a senior official with the US administration announced the letter will be reviewed by the White House.
Recently, Netanyahu has been urged to personally approach Obama and ask for Pollard's release.
Two weeks ago the Prime Minister's Office announced that Netanyahu has decided to comply with these requests. "The decision was made after a series of talks Netanyahu has held in recent months with senior officials in the US administration," a statement on behalf of the PM's Office noted.
The Knesset debate is being held in the backdrop of calls from Labor MKs to withdraw from the coalition should no progress be achieved in peace talks with the Palestinians.
PM, Livni at loggerheads
During the debate, Netanyahu slammed Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni by exposing that Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz previously accused Livni of not being able to lead, of causing damage to the State of Israel and of reacting in an hysteric manner. He also noted that Mofaz said the Kadima chairwoman lacked the ability to make hard decisions.
Livni responded by slamming Netanyahu. "I quote Jabotinsky: Our sons will be bewildered when they read the biographies of the 'leaders,' and will be bewildered when they discover that many of them were spineless," she said.
She claimed that there has been a deterioration in Israel's position, noting the de-legitimization campaign against it as a Jewish state.
"The state of Israel needs eminence and when a citizen looks up he sees one thing only. An empty void where the prime minister should be. The atmosphere is one of the government's last days. "
Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report
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