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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Winograd Commission raises the white flag; Zelekha continues fight

In a move that could prolong the term of the Olmert-Barak-Livni government to the end of its term in 2010, the Winograd Commission surrendered today and gave Olmert everything he wanted rather than facing the possibility of being ordered to do so by the High Court of Justice. Ignore the fact that the plaintiffs in this case were IDF officers. The real plaintiff in this case is Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert.
Winograd Committee representatives announced on Tuesday that cautionary letters would be issued to those who might be negatively affected by its conclusions before the final report is released, Israel Radio reported.

The announcement came after a Supreme Court discussion conducted by Justices Dorit Beinisch, Ayala Procaccia and Edmond Levy, deliberating over two petitions against the Winograd Committee, submitted by the defense section of the IDF Advocate General's Office and former minister Avraham Poraz.

Both petitioners agreed to the committee's decision. The court was in recess before giving its final ruling on the matter.

The petitions demanded that the Winograd Committee, examining the decision-making process during the Second Lebanon War, issue cautionary letters to IDF personnel likely to be affected by its findings and give them the chance to defend themselves before the recommendations were finalized and published.
But this isn't the whole story. Israel Radio reported tonight that not only will the Commission issue letters, it will also allow anyone affected to review the evidence, appear before the Commission and rebut the testimony previously heard by the Commission, including by adversarial proceedings. This could take months - or even years.

A month ago, I outlined some of the potential consequences of allowing those affected to appear before the Commission and bring and cross-examine witnesses:
For reasons I have explained before, delays in the release of the Winograd Commission report are likely to result in Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert remaining in power for longer, since the final report is the most likely way for him to be ousted. Of course, all of this was likely foreseeable last fall, when Olmert blocked the appointment of a commission of inquiry (which has standard procedures that are ensconced in the law) and instead appointed the Winograd Commission to try to cover his own rear end. Obviously, that's why we have the Winograd Commission and not a state commission of inquiry:
The delay in the report's release would be inevitable, legal sources said, because the Israel Defense Forces are asking the courts to allow officers to review the evidence concerning their performance, cross-examine witnesses and submit their own concluding statements. The sources described these procedures as time-consuming.

Channel 10 reported Wednesday night that two of the committee's members are considering quitting the panel should the court decide to allow hearings for officers. The members were quoted as saying that they could not spend another year on the report.
Meanwhile, the country's last best hope to get rid of Olmert, Finance Ministry comptroller Yaron Zelekha, lashed out at Olmert today:
Zelekha, who is the key witness in an ongoing fraud investigation into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's alleged bribery offenses in the sale of Bank Leumi's controlling stake, told the committee he believed that "since February 2006 the prime minister has tried, directly, indirectly and systematically, to have me fired".

Zelekha stated that this was the prime minister's fourth attempt to have him removed from office.


Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On vigorously denied Zelekha's claim that Olmert was involved in his dismissal, saying "nothing of the kind ever happened."

The decision whether or not to renew the accountant-general's contract, he said, was up to the finance minister alone.

Bar-On went on to add that with the exception of one case, none of the accountant-generals who served in the Finance Ministry in the last 18 years had their terms extended.

Members of the Knesset's State Control Committee were divided in their reactions: Zahava Gal-On (Meretz) and Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) called on the State comptroller to intervene, while Otniel Schneller (Kadima) said that given the disrespect Zelekha has been showing Olmert, Bar-On should have fired him long ago.
I didn't think my opinion of Schneller could possibly get any lower. It just did. He's pure sleaze.


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