Olmert speaks 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
While one of the Knesset's most prestigious committees added its voice Tuesday to the chorus of criticism facing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan for three separate inquiry committees into the war with Hizbullah, another Knesset committee was working quietly behind the scenes to force Olmert into accepting a full-scale State Commission of Inquiry.
After weeks of debate, the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee voted to urge the prime minister to form the more powerful State Commission - a recommendation that is inconvenient for the prime minister, but not binding. Committee members had tried to hold such a vote several times in the recent past, but had been thwarted by Chairman Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima), who opposes such a commission and, according to critics, had sought to protect Olmert.
The fiery committee meeting, which saw MK Matan Vilna'i (Labor) and MK Effie Eitam (NU-NRP) unite against Hanegbi, resulted in a vote of eight MKs for the State Commission, including the three Labor members, with only the three Kadima committee members voting against.
"Nothing will help the government. This [process] will end in a State Commission. The vote took place at my behest and the behest of MK Eitam, and we come from opposite sides of the political spectrum," Vilna'i said.
Down the hall, however, the less-widely publicized State Comptroller Committee was preparing for a meeting Wednesday that would lay the groundwork for a possible binding push toward a State Commission.
There have been nearly a dozen different attempts by Knesset members to set up such a commission - independent, powerful and headed by a former Supreme Court justice - in the week since Olmert announced his preference for three separate, less authoritative committees.
A State Commission of Inquiry would have a mandate for a broad investigation and could recommend the dismissal of top officials from their posts. Arye Eldad (NU-NRP) introduced a private bill to this effect; the Likud is gathering signatures slamming Olmert's decision.
By law, however, only the cabinet, or under very special conditions the Knesset State Comptroller Committee, can force the issue.
And the chairwoman of the State Comptroller Committee, Estherina Tartman (Israel Beiteinu), has said she will do everything in her power to achieve this.
"There is no doubt in my mind that it is necessary for us to have a State Commission," said Tartman on Tuesday.
"And the only legal way to impose this on the prime minister - aside from the cabinet - is via me."
Tartman said that according to Article 14 of the Knesset bylaws, she could use the State Comptroller's Report into the war as the basis for demanding the prime minister launch a State Commission.
All she needed, she said, was the backing of a majority of the committee - a majority she said she was sure she had.
"I have already had many conversations with [State Comptroller Micha] Lindenstrauss and he has agreed to work as quickly as possible to publish a preliminary report from his findings and speed up my process," said Tartman.
Lindenstrauss began gathering material in the week after the cease-fire was announced, but has not yet given a date for publication.
"I am troubled by this war on so many fronts - not just as a mother to sons in the army, but as a reserve soldier in the paratroop brigade," said Tartman.
"This is a personal battle for me."
In the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, members acknowledged that their vote had no actual power, but stressed it was important to make their voices heard.
"The government cannot ignore the lack of confidence expressed by the MKs regarding its chosen investigative process," said Eitam. "I hope and I'm sure that the government will return to the high road."
"Today's vote has very, very wide public and ethical implications," said Silvan Shalom (Likud).
"In order to learn lessons from this war and earn back the public's trust, it is our duty to establish a State Commission of Inquiry."
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