The Israelis Were Indiscreet

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Mideast talks were supposed to make President Clinton look good at home. Instead they threatened to plunge him into further domestic problems Friday -- especially with Washington's defense and intelligence communities -- after Israeli officials began spreading word that Clinton had agreed to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard as part of a Middle East peace deal. "The President can't really afford to release Pollard immediately without it looking like he was blackmailed," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "Clinton had rejected the Israelis' request to release him as recently as October 1 -- so there'll have to be some papering over of the issue to avoid the appearance that he's capitulating to Israeli demands, which would set a terrible precedent over spying."

After a morning of frantic negotiation, Netanyahu on Friday appeared to have backed off from his refusal to sign a peace deal unless he could take Pollard home with him. Israel "de-linked" the issues, giving Clinton the space to release Pollard at a later point. The problem, says Thompson, is that Israeli brinkmanship on the issue has created a situation where even a future release of Pollard may carry a domestic political cost.