Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday agreed to extend the prerogatives of the committee established to investigate the May 31 flotilla raid after its chairman, retired Supreme Court justice Ya’acov Terkel, threatened to resign, reliable sources told The Jerusalem Post.

Soon afterward, however, panel spokesman Ofer Lefler issued a statement apparently contradicting the report of Terkel’s ultimatum, even though the state informed the High Court of Justice that it was considering “various possibilities regarding the prerogatives of the committee at its request.”

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Despite the state’s declaration to the court, Lefler said, “The committee has no intention to reply or to devote time to any topic other than its work in accordance with the mandate it received from the government of Israel.”

Lefler told reporters that Terkel was not considering resigning from the committee and that its work would go on according to plan.

The sources told the Post that Terkel had demanded that the panel be expanded to five members and that its prerogatives be upgraded to the level of a government-appointed commission of examination.

Specifically, Terkel insisted that his committee have the right to accept evidence and summon witnesses at its own discretion, in accordance with Paragraphs 8a and 8b of the State Commission of Investigation Law. These provisions determine that the panel is not bound by regular judicial arrangements procedures, may receive any evidence in any way it sees fit and has the right to determine the arrangements for questioning witnesses.

Terkel asks Neeman to make appearing before c'tee obligatory

The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying, “Justice Terkel asked Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to expand the prerogatives of the committee to make it obligatory to appear before the committee and to take an oath before testifying. At the end of a consultation, the prime minister, the defense minister, the justice minister and the attorney-general all agreed that there was no reason not to grant the request.

“The justice minister will bring the matter before the cabinet soon. At the same time, the possibility was raised of expanding the composition of the committee.

However, it should be made clear that expanding the committee’s prerogatives does not apply to IDF soldiers and the principle of safeguarding the army’s investigative body [i.e., the Terkel Committee will still be unable to summon soldiers].”

The dramatic development became known after the state submitted a request on Tuesday evening to the High Court asking it to postpone a hearing scheduled for Wednesday on a petition filed by Uri Avineri, Adam Keller and the Gush Shalom organization. The petitioners called on the court to reject the cabinet decision to establish the panel on grounds that it did not give the investigative body the necessary mandate and powers to conduct a proper inquiry.

The committee currently has three members, Terkel, international law expert Prof. Shabtai Rosenne and security expert Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Horev. In addition, two international representatives, Lord David Trimble of Ireland and Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Ken Watkin of Canada, were appointed to observe the proceedings.

The panel held its first public meeting on Monday. Terkel, who gave an introductory speech, made no mention of the changes in the structure and powers of the committee that he is allegedly insisting upon.

In its request to postpone Wednesday’s scheduled hearing, the state’s representatives, attorneys Osnat Mandel, head of the High Court Section of the State Attorney’s Office, and Dina Silver wrote, “In accordance with a request from the Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident of May 31, 2010, and in view of additional aspects, the political echelon is considering various possibilities regarding the prerogatives of the committee and this, of course, will have implications...for the petition.”

The state said the prime minister would hold consultations on the matter in the coming days and promised that the panel would not meet before July 11.

In response to the state’s request, Avineri issued a statement saying, “It seems that already before our appeal got to any hearing before the court, the state representatives in practice admit Gush Shalom’s main contention – that the Terkel Committee, with the very narrow authority and mandate given it by the government, was not able to conduct a serious investigation into the circumstances that led to the killing of nine passengers on the Gaza Flotilla, and subsequently to severe damage to Israel’s international position.

“I am glad to see that the prime minister apparently has also understood this, even if belatedly. Nevertheless, we don’t withdraw our demand to form a state commission of inquiry, independent and fully empowered, which is the instrument created by Israeli law exactly for sensitive investigations of this kind,” Avineri said.

“A thorough and independent investigation is needed, first of all, not for the Americans, not for the Turks, and not for the UN but for ourselves, for the sake of Israel’s future in order to help prevent such grave fiascos from happening again.”

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