Winograd Panel Members Deny pro-Olmert Bias

A member of the Winograd Committee hinted yesterday that he felt Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should remain in office. Prof. Yehezkel Dror's statement has been interpreted by opposition MKs as proof the committee was made up of Olmert's cronies.

The Winograd report, released last Wednesday, attributed "grave faults" to the government and the military in the decision-making process during the war. Dror told Ma'ariv that "if we believe the prime minister will promote the peace process [with the Palestinians], then that's a serious consideration. The peace process, if successful, will save so many lives as to give it considerable weight. It is not right to look only at one side [of the issue]."

Since the release of the report, many have called upon the prime minister to take responsibility for the mistakes his government made during the war and to subsequently resign. When asked whether he felt Olmert should step down, Dror said "we must think of the consequences. What do you prefer? A government led by Olmert and [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak? Or new elections that will give rise to a government led by [opposition leader and Likud Chair Benjamin] Netanyahu?"

Dror's comments sparked a storm within the political establishment. State Control Committee Chair Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party-National Union) has announced that he will convene the committee for an urgent meeting, where Dror will have an opportunity to explain his comments. According to Orlev, Dror's remarks raise serious suspicions regarding bias in the composition of the war probe committee and possible corruption.

The Prime Minister's Bureau declined to comment on Dror's statement or the criticism it sparked.

Former foreign minister Silvan Shalom said that "after we've been disappointed by the politicians and some of the media, we couldn't imagine the Winograd Committee doing the same thing."

Shalom added that "if such a senior member of the panel says the considerations that guided him were who would bring peace, and whether something would bring about early elections and Likud's rise to power - this is a grave issue that requires a serious examination of a possible state commission of inquiry."

Likud's leaders - among them Shalom, Gideon Sa'ar, Gilad Erdan and Limor Livnat - held a special consultation on Dror's statement, in which they decided to lead an aggressive media campaign calling for early elections.

"Today the lie has been exposed, when we learned the Winograd Committee was a corrupt body afflicted with foreign consideration of a political nature," Erdan said. "The committee's report can go straight into the trash can."

Erdan's colleague from Meretz, Yossi Beilin, called Dror's statement "chilling" and said it proved the Winograd Committee was in cahoots with Olmert. "This consideration, for the prime minister's ability to bring peace, must not guide the members of a committee of inquiry studying his performance during a war," Beilin said.

MK Shelly Yachimovitch (Labor) said that there was no other choice but to appoint a state commission, now that it has become clear that at least one member of the government-appointed panel operated out of political motives. "If a judge said what Dror said after delivering a ruling, that ruling would have been nullified," she said.

"During the course of the committee's inquiry and its discussions, political considerations such as who is qualified to lead Israel at this time were never raised. We don't even know the personal political positions of committee members," read an official statement issued by the Winograd Committee in response to Dror's remarks. "We regret that personal opinions, interpreted as political views, quoted by panel members, are seen as something that influences the entire committee's body of work," the statement said.

The statement added: "In our view, the panel members don't have any advantage in interpreting the content of the report, its conclusions or recommendations, over anyone else who read it or commented on it. As far as the function of the report, we believe it speaks for itself."

Therefore, the statement stressed that "interpretations of the contents of the report - even if they originate from committee members - are the sole responsibility of those who made them." However, it added: "Our consensus was not harmed by this dispute because the committee itself stands only behind the content of the report and everything said in it."

Sources close to Dror told Haaretz that the remarks the Winograd panelist had made during the interview reflected fundamental questions and not political opinions. They further said that Dror did not take any political factors into consideration while preparing the war report, and the issue of a political outcome as a result of the report was not taken into consideration by the committee.

Moti Bassok adds: State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss yesterday informed the Knesset State Control Committee that a special team from his office would oversee the implementation of the recommendations that pertain to the treatment of the civilian population during the war.