Peace Process Under Suspicion

A government whose senior officials are criminal suspects casts suspicion on its policies as well, and it is liable to fall together with them.

Eitan Haberman is the legal adviser to Kadima, the party to which Shimon Peres belonged until he became president. Last week Haberman bestowed a favor upon Peres, who sent him to meet with State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss in an effort to salvage some of the president's lost prestige. The president is beyond partisan divisions, but he still has friends in the party.

Peres' attempts to keep state auditors out of the President's Residence, by means of unfounded arguments voiced by supporters, failed. Haberman arranged for the parties to sign a joint declaration, like one issued by two heads of state: The comptroller's office (which carried out a pre-audit survey during the term of former president Moshe Katsav, and suspended its activity when the police investigation began) was to deal with the "administrative and financial" side of the President's Residence. The disclosure of the identities of the parties to the agreement placed restrictions on the comptroller, one of Peres' aides crowed, but to the layman it sounded like a total capitulation on the part of Peres. It is still not clear what the president had hoped to conceal.

Democracy is the last refuge of politicians who fear oversight, criminal investigations and indictments. Those who dare to inspect the actions of elected officials sin against democracy - against the separation of powers - the pedants will say. There's nothing new in this: The organized crime families, too, see police raids as a violation of the principle of separation of powers.

In the two bad years of the Olmert-Friedmann-Dichter government, with an attorney general and police detectives who are not eager to bring prime ministers to justice, the state comptroller became the right-most marker of the fight against corruption. Now he is no longer alone. He has been joined by an adviser, Police Commander (Ret.) Meir Gilboa, the dogged investigator from the Aryeh Deri case. And Monday morning in the Knesset the latest actor on the public stage made a successful debut: State Prosecutor Moshe Lador.

The televised getting-to-know-you meeting between Lador and the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee firmly planted the flag for the fight against government corruption. We can expect a determined stand from the head of the State Prosecutor's Office, one that opposes the excessive pardoning of criminals in general and highly placed white-collar criminals in particular. If the prosecutor has diagnosed the state as being infected by corruption, then he clearly must fight the disease.

Lador signed a verbal promissory note whose cashing-in date is approaching, as he must decide what to do with the Bank Leumi case, which began with a complaint to the comptroller. In his remarks in the Knesset he hinted that the police investigators' conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to indict the primary suspect, Ehud Olmert, does not necessarily point to his decision: The official and professional authority is in his hands, and it is his opinion that counts.

If he decides to try Olmert, Lador will first have to overcome the alleged reservations of the state attorney in the Leumi case, Avia Alef. Alef, head of the fiscal department in the State Prosecutor's Office, lost to Lador over the state prosecutor appointment. Her opinions are close to those of the police team, and are more lenient than those of Tel Aviv district attorney for taxation and the economy, Ella Rubinek, who prosecuted the Likud accounts case of Olmert in the 1990s. She was not appointed to handle the Leumi case.

The Leumi case is still in surgery, and the cases involving the Investments Center and political appointments in the Ministry of Trade and Industry are both approaching the emergency room. A great deal of material has been collected in these cases, material that jurists who are familiar with them believe will lead to indictments. Police officials believe that the injuries sustained in a traffic accident by attorney Uri Messer, a close friend of Olmert's who is currently the main witness in the Investments Center case, will not keep the investigation from being completed and the case from being submitted to the prosecution for a decision: Messer submitted the majority of his statement before the accident.

As if these cases were not enough, they have recently been joined by the Aquaria case, yet another story of questionable activity in the Trade and Industry Ministry under Olmert, and by the aides who promoted it. Lindenstrauss is examining why the ministry sought to allocate tens of millions of shekels from the Investment Center's meager budget - and why the Israel Lands Administration agreed to hand over scarce land, without requesting bids - to an ambitious development project including golf greens and perhaps a casino, on a palm-filled plot near Eilat from which the developers are scheming to evict Kibbutz Eilot. The alternative piece of land offered to the tenants, members of the kibbutz, turned out to be the same place earmarked as the future home of the airport in Evrona.

A government whose senior officials are criminal suspects casts suspicion on its policies as well, and it is liable to fall together with them. If there is any chance for progress in peace talks this year, the legal portfolios that are currently wending their way from Lindenstrauss to the police to Lador, and - with the exception of the Bank Leumi case - to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz as well, are hurting it. In order to convince an undecided and skeptical public, we need a leadership that is honest, open to criticism and free of investigations, with no suspicions concerning it or its motives.