In his testimony before the Winograd Committee, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was asked why he told the Knesset he would not stop the war in Lebanon until it achieved its main objective - the return of the abducted soldiers - even when he knew it was impossible to carry out this mission.
Attorney-at-Law Olmert responded to the committee thus: "There are things that are said because they need to be said." He meant that not always does a person mean what he says. Sometimes he is driven by special considerations to take a stance, even if he does not support it in practice, or when he knows there is no chance of its being fulfilled.
What is right for the common man is true sevenfold for a prime minister. It is not unusual for the leader of a state to use oblique language when his target audiences differ. Often he has to present a view in public that is meant for international consumption but offers contradictory expectations to the public at home. It is also not uncommon for him to adopt a hawkish exterior when the heart beating inside him is that of a dove. Therefore, Olmert should not be held at his word when he declared that the Israel Defense Forces would not lay down its arms until the abducted soldiers were brought home, even if he knew that the chances of this were nil. The question is whether he should be treated with the same kind of forgiveness when he attacks the conduct of the Winograd Committee, 10 days after he announced that he was adopting the conclusions of its interim report.
Since Friday, a day after the publication of the abridged transcripts of the testimonies of Olmert, Amir Peretz and Dan Halutz before the Winograd panel, blast waves are being felt from Olmert's corner. These waves smack of legalistic reasoning and lack the statesmanlike tones expected of a prime minister. The Olmert of the past two days sounds like a lawyer doing his utmost to defend his client (in this case, himself), and not like a head of state who bows before the conclusions of a government committee of inquiry he himself appointed to pinpoint the source of the failures of the Second Lebanon War.
His behavior gives rise to the following question: Which Olmert should we believe? The one who says he is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the IDF and the government during the war, or the one who found a flaw in the fact that the panel did not allow him to respond to the testimony of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni? (She reportedly advised him to end the campaign three days after it had began.) The Olmert who rushed to put together the Lipkin-Shahak Committee to carry out in full the recommendations of the interim Winograd report, or the Olmert who is trying to present his views once more to the committee because he thinks it has wronged him? The Olmert who opposed the publication of testimony, or the one who is now claiming the committee went overboard in censoring the transcripts? The Olmert who quotes opposition head Menachem Begin as having told then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, on the eve of the Entebbe raid, he would back him even if the audacious military operation failed, or the Olmert who complains the panel did not release for publication some of the questions that he feels would improve his image?
Like a determined lawyer, albeit a desperate one, Olmert is now grasping at every flimsy chance to undermine the credibility of the Winograd Committee. His conduct is reminiscent of President Katsav, who did not hesitate to attack the law enforcement authorities to escape judgment. Olmert is essentially arguing that the committee censored comments of praise for him, proving it biased and supine before public opinion that has ruled against him on the war. He even dares to say the attitude of Winograd and of his colleagues does not leave the prime minister a chance to emerge unscathed in the panel's final report.
Thus Olmert stains the committee, undermines its conclusions and imposes unfair pressure on it to adjust its conclusions to his expectations. Thus he confuses the public, trying to pull it into his corner and destroy the institution of committees of inquiry.
Maybe the arguments he is now making are just an instance in which "things are said because they need to be said," even if they are not really true.
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