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On September 17, 2006, the Israeli government decided to appoint a government investigative committee to examine the preparation and behavior of the political echelon and the defense establishment during the Second Lebanon War. However, when the committee published its final report last Wednesday, it only did half the job. While the Winograd Committee did a monumental job when it came to the Israel Defense Forces, it invested no effort vis-a-vis the political echelon.

In the second, analytical part of the report, Prof. Yehezkel Dror and his colleagues devoted about 200 outstanding pages to crucifying the IDF. However, not a single page was devoted to the preparation and conduct of the Prime Minister's Office. Nor was room found in the report for a description of the preparation and conduct of the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the government plenum. Because of that, there is no escaping the assertion that the Winograd Committee betrayed its task. The committee for investigating the campaign in Lebanon failed egregiously, a failure that undermines its credibility and overturns the ethical validity of its assertions.

Dror's statements to the daily newspaper Maariv stirs suspicions of the committee's failure. The suspicion is that the Winograd Committee was an "etrog committee" - a body set up to protect the prime minister. The suspicion is that the Annapolis Summit accounts for the inexplicable gap between the committee's treatment of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the interim report and its treatment of Olmert in the final report. The suspicion is that the committee that was appointed by Olmert identified with him politically and therefore protected him. The suspicion is that members of the committee knowingly betrayed their task due to extraneous considerations.

It's heartbreaking. There is no question that the members of the Winograd Committee are honest and dedicated people. They did what they did out of pure intentions. But when one adds the serious failures that characterized their work with the incriminating words of Dror, it is impossible to remove suspicion from the agenda. The Winograd Committee has become a stained committee. A committee that did not close the file of the Second Lebanon War, but actually opened it. A committee that did not appease the public, but left it stricken and untrusting.

The responsibility that the members of the investigative committee took upon themselves in September 2006 was too much to bear. They cut off a penetrating public discussion that was taking place in real time. They disrupted the democratic process of a free society. They preserved the rule of a failed government for 17 crucial months. For that reason, at the end of the process, the honorable members had an obligation to provide Israel with something it now needs above all else: an Archimedean lever. A clean and stable point, from which to rebuild government institutions.

A week after the publication of the report, it is entirely clear that Eliyahu Winograd, Ruth Gavison, Yehezkel Dror, Menahem Einan and Chaim Nadel did not fulfill their obligation. They wasted precious time, caused irreversible damage and produced a document whose contents are impressive but whose missing sections are intolerable.

Now there is no choice: elections. Come what may, elections. Elections because things have gone too far. Because the land is rotten. Because the effort to preserve a failed and irresponsible government against the wishes of the nation has been corrupted.

The effort to protect the prime minister has corrupted part of the media and even infiltrated the Winograd Committee. The "etrog" syndrome has become a real threat to Israeli democracy. Zehava Gal-On, Shelly Yachimovich and Yossi Beilin understand this. Their statements in the past 24 hours have rescued the integrity of the peace camp and its values. But their words are not enough. Now, in the absences of a worthy alternative, it is imperative to let the public have its say. The public is the only Archimedean lever.

Dror is right: Benjamin Netanyahu is liable to win. But his victory is not decreed by fate. The Winograd scandal can make Ehud Barak come to his senses, correct his mistake and become the ethical leader he must be. A joint candidacy of Barak and Foreign Ministry Tzipi Livni would have a real chance against the right. It would offer the Israeli majority a path toward the division of the land without the corruption of the land.

However if Netanyahu wins, this, too, will have to be honored. Those who favor democracy cannot use deception to prevent the nation from electing him. After 18 months of stagnation under Olmert and in the shadow of Winograd, Israel needs a sound leadership that enjoys the public's confidence. A new leadership, a legitimate leadership, a leadership that is not protected.