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How far can the Winograd Committee go in terms of its conclusions and recommendations regarding Prime Minister Ehud Olmert? If it finds that he failed in his duties, can it recommend that he resign from office?
And if it does make such a recommendation, will it be binding?
These are some of the questions that have taken on new urgency following the committee's announcement on Tuesday that it will publish a partial report next month which will specifically assess the performances of Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former chief of General Staff Dan Halutz during the first days of the second Lebanese war.
The question is made somewhat more complicated by the fact that the Winograd Committee is not a State Commission of Inquiry appointed by the President of the Supreme Court according to the 1968 Commissions of Inquiry Law. The powers of these commissions are described in great detail by the law and augmented by judicial rulings over the years.
The Winograd Committee belongs to a new breed of committees of investigation appointed by the government according to Section 8 of the Government Law (2001,) which grants it some, but not all, of the powers of a state commission of inquiry.
According to Suzie Navot, an expert in constitutional law at the academic branch of the College of Management, the first government-appointed committee was headed by retired Jerusalem District Court President Vardi Zeiler. The Zeiler Committee did indeed make recommendations in its report, including one to fire Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi. Karadi did not wait to test the powers of the committee. He resigned the same day.
According to Navot, "the way in which the conclusions, and particularly the personal recommendations of the Zeiler Committee were implemented will serve as a preview of what can be expected regarding those of the Winograd Committee."
Navot also pointed out that in its response to petitions protesting the establishment of a government-appointed committee instead of a judicial-appointed committee, the High Court ruled that the only difference between the two is the manner in which they are appointed.
Based on this ruling, concluded Navot, it would be difficult for the government to ignore the Winograd Committee's findings and recommendations.
The recommendations of state commissions of inquiry are taken very seriously both traditionally and in accordance with High Court rulings and the government customarily implements those referring to individuals. Until now, obviously, that tradition has not applied to government-appointed committees.
Nevertheless, given the precedent set by the Zeiler Committee and Karadi's resignation, and given the High Court's ruling that the only difference between the Winograd Committee and a state commission of inquiry is the way each is appointed, Navot said that "should the Winograd Committee make personal recommendations, the government will be hard-pressed not to implement them. Should the committee make harsh recommendations against Olmert and he refuses to resign, we can assume that someone will petition the High Court."
Navot added, however, that up until now the court has never been asked to order a prime minister to resign.