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From the legal perspective, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz put an end to the Greek island affair by deciding to close the file on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his son Gilad - unless the High Court of Justice voices reservations on his considerations.

But the legal aspects and decisions, important in themselves, cannot push aside the urgency of examining the prime minister's public behavior. This behavior, as the facts clearly show, is not in keeping with the public norms of personal and public propriety that are required of a person in public office, never mind the highest public office.

The complex of personal, business and political relations between the Sharon family and David Appel, the huge sums of money received by Gilad Sharon for his services to Appel, despite lacking either experience or know-how, as well as other deals like the Cyril Kern affair which the prosecution is still probing, raise huge question marks. If the questions are not about the cleanliness of the prime minister's hands, then they are certainly about his cleanliness of mind: it is very hard to accept the "lack of knowledge" excuse that characterized Sharon's answers to questions about his son's business dealings.

Mazuz's opinion that "the evidence does not bring us even close to the feasible possibility of conviction," as he put it, might give the mistaken impression that it is also a sweeping kosher certificate for all of the prime minister's behavior in this and other affairs. The values of society are not determined only in courts of law, or by the opinions of lawyers. They are constructed in a long process of public discourse, which guides and cultivates the rules according to which society requires its leaders to act. This is also why public discourse clashes with legal decisions.

The criteria for conviction in a criminal trial are narrow and rigid, and in a law-abiding state, they should be. On the other hand, the moral and ethical norms that are supposed to guide a civilized society must be seen as broader in scope, yet at the same time flexible, so that they give a clear direction to anyone in public office facing a value-related dilemma. A "dry" trial cannot always overcome the built-in gap in any democratic regime - between what the public at large defines as immoral behavior and what the law books and verdicts define as such.

By virtue of his high office, Ariel Sharon is also on public trial. The large amount of information revealed in the investigation file and the report written by the attorney general can and should be used as evidence by a public concerned for society's values - or at least as a basis for several hard questions Sharon should answer. The public trial is not restricted by the rules of evidence that are required for a judge's verdict, and it can also be based on feelings of revulsion aroused by these facts.

Sharon may be permitted to derive satisfaction from the attorney general's arguments and decision, but the public too is permitted to define the prime minister's conduct as inappropriate - even disgraceful.