(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
While the Knesset delayed a decision on the future of an official probe into the Carmel fire, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu attempted to stave off criticism Tuesday by calling on State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to conduct an investigation into the incidents surrounding the blaze.
Meanwhile, late Tuesday evening, State Control Committee Chairman Yoel Hasson (Kadima) sent a request to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein claiming that Netanyahu had secured a key vote against the official government probe by offering funds for yeshivot.
Comptroller accepts PM's request to probe Carmel fire
'Firefighting plane could have come to Israel sooner'
Lindenstrauss accepted Netanyahu’s request to investigate the fire. The prime minister made the request in a meeting of the ministerial committee on governmental oversight, headed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, that he convened in his office.
Netanyahu’s office said Lindenstrauss would submit his report to the government as soon as possible within the next four months.
The ministerial committee gave relevant government ministries three months to report to Lindenstrauss about changes they were making to fix problems and inadequacies that were revealed in his report last week on the deficiencies in Israel’s fire service.
Earlier Tuesday, Hasson said that in another two weeks, Netanyahu would be asked to attend a hearing of his committee in order to present a timetable for the completion of all the changes Lindenstrauss had recommended for the Fire and Rescue Services.
Hasson added a new dimension to the struggle over the probe into the Carmel fire when he sent a letter to Weinstein Tuesday evening asking the attorney-general to look into allegations that Netanyahu had offered additional funds for hesder yeshivot in exchange for National Union MK Uri Ariel’s vote against the probe in the State Control Committee.
The committee chairman said that in exchange for a vote against the establishment of a government investigative commission, Netanyahu had offered to allocate NIS 21.8 million from the defense budget to the religious premilitary academies.
Netanyahu’s office was quick to respond to the report, saying that “in the conversation that was held between Netanyahu and Ariel, the prime minister told Ariel that the establishment of such an investigative commission will only delay carrying out the state comptroller’s conclusions regarding the fire. Unlike what was claimed, Netanyahu did not promise any sort of financial benefit for a vote, and was not asked to do so.”
Ariel also hotly denied Hasson’s claims and attacked the Kadima MK, saying that “Hasson came to me a number of times and said that the investigative commission was the best way to remove the prime minister. It is clear that this is his real goal, and not investigating the failures. Libelous statements from a man who advances political goals on the blood of those killed are not worthy of response.”
Faced with a majority in his committee opposing his proposal to establish a ministerial investigative committee, Hasson announced Tuesday afternoon that he would delay the vote on the proposal until a later date. Following over four hours of heated debate within the committee, which was attended by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Lindenstrauss, Hasson announced that the vote on the proposal would be held at some point during a session of the committee within a week from Tuesday’s meeting.
Hasson said the delay in the vote was in protest of changes the House Committee was making to the committee’s composition – changes that would ensure that the coalition held a strong majority to block the probe.
On Monday, the House Committee announced that it was appointing regular stand-ins for committee members. Should Ariel be absent from a vote, he would be replaced by Coalition Chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud). This “unprecedented situation,” Hasson complained, would further shift the balance in the committee in favor of the coalition.
Committee officials emphasized Tuesday that the vote could be held on short notice at any point during any meeting of the committee in the coming week.
Meanwhile, at the Galilee Forum in Bet She’an, opposition leader Tzipi Livni blasted the situation in the committee.
“We are witnesses to a situation in which those responsible for the disaster are trying to prevent an investigative committee, because, God forbid, such a committee will determine who is responsible,” charged Livni.
“If we determined in advance the division of responsibility in Israel, then maybe we could reach a state in which those who are responsible also pay the price by leaving their positions as soon as it is apparent that there has been a catastrophe such as we witnessed,” Livni added, reiterating calls made last week for Netanyahu’s resignation.