It's hard to think of happier news for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert than the Winograd Committee's announcement yesterday that it would grant the right to a hearing for anyone who might be adversely affected by its conclusions.
Despite its annoying legalistic formulation, the announcement's meaning is clear: The release of the final Winograd Committee report, for which the country's political leaders have been waiting with bated breath, will be delayed for at least a few months, until everyone has had a chance to defend himself and his good name.
Postponing the final report to next year will apparently keep Olmert in office. It is difficult to believe that the committee will call for his resignation a year and a half or two years after the Second Lebanon War. Who'll even remember the war and its failures? Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who threatened to take Labor out of the coalition when the final report is issued, can also rest easy. He's not going anywhere either.
After Olmert rode out the harsh criticism meted out to him by the committee's interim report, his aides laid out two optimistic scenarios: The committee would give in to pressure and be forced to issue warning letters or take similar measures that would greatly postpone the final report. Alternatively, if no warnings were issued, Olmert still has no reason to worry. As far as he's concerned, the report can come out today as long as it does not specifically call for his resignation. And even were it to do so, the committee would have to warn him first, thus delaying publication.
The committee has begun summoning witnesses to reappear, starting later this month. For now, it's only the second tier, aides and advisers. Olmert has not been summoned. If he is called in, he is sure to ask to first read thousands of pages of testimony and will wear down the committee with long-winded speeches and legal tactics. The committee missed its chance to fire the prime minister with its partial report. The public expected it, the war was at the top of the agenda, and the conclusions were very serious ("failure, failure, failure"). The committee failed the well-known test from "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly": "When you have to shoot, shoot! Don't talk."
A Winograd Committee member recently quoted, without attribution, on Channel 10 news as saying the committee expected Olmert to draw his own conclusions from the report and quit, was merely exposed in his misery: The prime minister isn't supposed to understand hints. Either he is fit to govern or he isn't, there is no midway point here. Anyone who wants to force him out must muster the courage and say it, and face the legal and public battle that will follow. Anyone who makes do with circumlocutions instead of shooting straight from the hip should not be surprised if his report ends up being buried in the same dump as its predecessor.
The Winograd Committee can console itself with the knowledge that yesterday it stole the headlines from the home front report of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, who tried to steal headlines away from the interim report.
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