Olmert Abbas 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
In this government, where information is so tightly controlled, there is generally a reason why certain bits of information are released to the media, especially if those bits happen to be particularly juicy.
And so, following the leaked report that Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin revealed during Sunday's cabinet meeting details of a Fatah plot to kill Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during a drive to Jericho this summer, one basic question needs to be asked: What was the interest in this information coming out now?
The question is even more salient considering that the information was released a full four months after the alleged assassination attempt, and a month after the suspects were released from PA custody.
The Shin Bet chief periodically briefs the cabinet, a legendarily porous body of 25 ministers where no really sensitive information is normally discussed because of fears that it will leak out. (The hard intelligence information select cabinet ministers need to hear is disclosed in much smaller decision-making forums, with even the security cabinet no longer considered leak-proof).
After the weekly cabinet meetings, the cabinet secretary briefs reporters and picks select parts of the meeting that he wants the public to know about. Other items, the vast majority, are never made public.
Except for the leaks, what the public knows of the goings-on at the cabinet sessions - as well as what goes on in meetings between the prime minister and foreign leaders - is limited to exactly what the Prime Minister's Office wants it to know, which is usually not much.
Since Olmert and cabinet secretary Ovad Yehezkel flew to France directly after the cabinet meeting on Sunday, there was no briefing. Rather, Diskin's revelation mysteriously made it directly to the press, and it could have gotten there from either one of Olmert's aides, or one of the numerous ministers and advisers in the room.
But that Diskin was even given the okay to talk about the matter at the cabinet was a clear sign that the government had an interest in the information finding its way into the public domain, because it was clear to all that something like this would come out if discussed in the full cabinet.
Olmert and his office had nothing much to say about the revelations on Sunday. But then again, they didn't need to. Once the information was released that Fatah officers had tried to kill the prime minister and that the Palestinian Authority then let the suspects go, nothing more needed to be said - the story took on a dynamic of its own.
Voices were immediately raised - from NU/NRP's Zvi Hendel on the Right to Labor's Danny Yatom in the Center - calling for Olmert to call off the Annapolis meeting, arguing that this incident showed that not only was Abbas's security control of the West Bank tenuous, but that the revolving door policy whereby security prisoners were picked up for show and then released shortly thereafter was not a memory from the Yasser Arafat days, but was alive and kicking in Abbas's new and improved PA.
Furthermore, the argument was made that if Abbas's security forces didn't know about this plan, what did it say about those forces, upon which any agreement with the Palestinians would be based? Also, if Abbas didn't know that the men were released from jail, what did that say about his control? In short, the whole episode raised serious questions about the astuteness of the entire Annapolis process, and the wisdom of placing the country's eggs in Abbas's basket.
And the information's coming out the way it did leaves one questioning whether the government didn't want these questions out there right now in a public manner.
Public pressure against the Annapolis process won't hurt Israel's negotiating position. For instance, if the Palestinians show no flexibility in their demand that the document being negotiated be rich in detail and include a timetable - something Israel is opposed to - then the assassination plot, the PA's reaction to it and the ensuing uproar in Israel could, if Olmert so decided, be used as a reason to call the whole thing off.
Revelation of the plot now provides Olmert with a precious commodity in his negotiations: room to maneuver.