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The announcement Tuesday afternoon by the Winograd Committee that it will be including personal findings on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz in its interim report created just as many question marks as it dispelled.
It wasn't a great day for some of Israel's most senior reporters and commentators, as their confident assertions that the committee would only issue general conclusions and recommendations, without pointing the finger of blame, now thoroughly discredited. From the horse's mouth we have it that judgment will indeed be passed upon the war's leadership.
This doesn't mean they'll keep their peace now - on the contrary, you can bet that over the next few weeks, the newspapers and broadcast channels will produce conflicting predictions on the fate that awaits Olmert and Peretz.
But despite the jubilation of opposition politicians and the various groups that have been calling for Olmert's, Peretz's and Halutz's resignations ever since the war ended, nothing in the announcement can be construed as promising that the trio - or, indeed, any one of them - will be personally blamed or that the recommendations will include a call for anyone to quit their post.
The wording was very precise. The interim report, due to be published in the second half of April, will include a chapter explaining the committee's role and procedures, a general assessment of policy during the six years between the pullback from Lebanon in 2000 and the war's outbreak, and in-depth analysis of the decision-making during the five-day period following Hizbullah's capture of IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser on July 12.
This is the bit where there will also be "personal findings as to the responsibility of the prime minister, defense minister and former chief of General Staff relating to the decisions to launch the campaign and the way they were made."
That could mean the committee members are about to hang them out to dry, but just as likely, they might be about to exonerate them. There are no clues save for two tantalizing details. First, according to the announcement, there is also going to be a chapter in the interim report explaining how the committee sees the issue of "natural justice," or in human terms, whether anyone who is likely to be damaged by the findings deserves a warning before the report is released. The committee has issued no warnings. Does this mean its members believe there is no need, since the facts are self-evident?
The second detail is the time frame the committee chose to study for its interim report, which ends with Olmert's speech to the Knesset on July 17 in which he outlined the aims of the campaign. This seems to indicate that Olmert is in for the most intensive treatment in the report, and with Halutz already out and Peretz almost certain to take a hammering in the May 28 Labor primary, Olmert is the one with the most to lose.
On the other hand, the report might state that the committee scrutinized all his decisions and found them above reproach. If this were to be the bottom line, Olmert could expect a swift comeback for his political fortunes. Few, though, believe this to be a realistic scenario.
Whatever the outcome, we are in for 40 days of political paralysis. Now that everyone knows that Winograd and his four colleagues will indeed be deciding the prime minister's fate straight after Pessah, everything will go on hold. Legislation, diplomatic initiatives, appointments, investigations - few if any will go ahead until we know for sure. Kadima ministers will be preparing alternative strategies for the day after, Netanyahu will be waiting on the sidelines, and the press will keep coming up with apocalyptic headlines.
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