Inquiry into Lebanon war not on agenda at weekly cabinet meeting
PM convenes top aides to consider two options - state commission of inquiry or governmental investigation.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to decide by the end of this week upon the nature of the commission of inquiry to examine the handling of the Lebanon war.
Olmert convened his inner circle of aides late Saturday night to consider two main options - either an external state commission of inquiry or appointing an internal government inquiry. There were no reports of any decision resulting from the meeting.
The Saturday meeting was the second of the forum that was expected to advise Olmert on whether to bring a proposal to set up a commission before the cabinet for approval Sunday.
However, on Sunday Olmert complied with Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tzachi Hanegbi's request to postpone the decision by a week.
Hanegbi said to Haaretz "it is clear to me that had we held the meeting [on Monday], the entire discussion would have revolved around the issue of the commission of inquiry, preventing the discussion of the Iranian nuclear threat, which is expected to be the central issue in Monday's meeting. Therefore, I have decided to postpone the meeting [on the commission of inquiry] to next Monday."
In response to Olmert's decision to postpone the establishment of a commission of inquiry, members of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel embarked on a hunger strike. The chairman of the movement attorney Eliad Shraga announced the hunger strike at a press conference Sunday night, saying the strike would continue as long as a commission of inquiry is not established.
"We weren't looking to behead anyone and we weren't looking for blood. All we demanded was that the military failures and home front problems be handled thoroughly and honestly, and unfortunately, this too was delayed by the government. We did not have any other choice but to step up the fight. We will not stop the protest until a commission of inquiry is established, it is a reasonable demand," said Shraga.
One of the crucial issues that was discussed in Olmert's Saturday meeting with his aides involved the type of commission of inquiry that would be most appropriate to recommend.
At this juncture there are two realistic options: An internal or an external commission. The latter comes under the Law on Commissions of Inquiry and requires the president of the Supreme Court to appoint the members of the commission. Political sources say outgoing Justice Aharon Barak or his retired deputy, Mishael Cheshin, would lead this panel.
At the Prime Minister's Office, it is believed that if Barak or Cheshin lead the commission of inquiry, the final report would include judgment of the senior political leadership and their conduct before and during the war.
The advantage of a public commission of inquiry is that it enjoys a great deal of public trust and its establishment would considerably alleviate public and political pressure on the government.
The internal commission of inquiry is governed by the Basic Law on the Government. If appointed, Olmert would dictate its composition. For such a commission to benefit from the public's trust, he would need to find a retired judge who would agree to head such a committee.
The main weakness of an internal commission is that it may be perceived by the public as a "whitewash board." This has already been the reaction to the committee set up by Defense Minister Amir Peretz immediately after the war, under former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. That committee was diassembled before it even began its work.
Last Tuesday, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz presented the prime minister with a document detailing the various legal options available to investigate mistakes made during the course of the war.
Justice Ministry officials declined to provide details of the document to the media, saying, "we are dealing with an internal document designed to advise the prime minister in his decision."
Among the options Mazuz presented are the following: A state commission of inquiry; a governmental inquiry commission with subpoena powers; an investigation by the state comptroller; a parliamentary committee of inquiry (similar to the committee established by the Knesset earlier this year to investigate the evacuation of the Amona outpost); an inquiry committee appointed by a minister (such as the commission headed by Lipkin-Shahak), and internal investigations by the various agencies involved, similar to the IDF's operational investigations.
Olmert will determine the nature of the committee by the end of the week, as the High Court of Justice is expected to review a petition by the Ometz movement, which has demanded the court instruct the government to set up an external investigation.
The decision will have implications for the extent of the mandate of the proposed committee, its ability to examine witnesses (especially those who may be affected by its conclusions) and force them to testify, and the question of whether it will be allowed to use in criminal proceedings testimonies given before the commission.