Analysis: Orlev knew how to wield powerin State Control Committee

MK Zevulun Orlev (National Union-National Religious Party) wound up 20 months as head of the Knesset State Control Committee on Thursday and handed over the gavel to his successor, MK Michael Eitan (Likud). If one had to sum up his term of office in a single, understated sentence, it could easily be this: Orlev was not afraid to use the power he wielded. In fact, it would be fair to say that none of his predecessors ever came close to using the power vested in the committee as he did. Some, in fact, might say Orlev abused his power. The boldest - again, some would say most irresponsible - move that Orlev made was to establish, primarily with the support of the opposition majority in the committee - three state commissions of inquiry, two of them within the space of three days. The law gives the committee the power to establish an independent commission of inquiry appointed by the president of the Supreme Court if it decides that the findings of a report by the state comptroller warrant it. However, that provision had only been used once before in the entire history of the law and that was more than two decades ago, after the government refused to form a commission to investigate the role of the banks in the 1983 stock market collapse. Orlev rallied the committee into ordering commissions of inquiry into the mishandling of the Holocaust survivors by successive governments, the mishandling of Israel's water supply and the mishandling of the resettlement of the 8,000 settlers who were forced to leave Gaza and settlements in the northern West Bank three years ago. The law is not clear about what constitutes a topic worthy of investigation by an independent state commission of inquiry - which has the power to subpoena witnesses, issue cautionary letters and make personal as well as systemic recommendations. It is fundamentally accepted that commissions of inquiry are meant to examine the government's role in major national traumas such as the 1973 Yom Kippur War or the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres. There is a debate as to whether the committee was correct in deeming one or another of the three issues as worthy of investigation by a state commission of inquiry. There is always the fear that the moral authority of the commission will diminish if used too frequently. But Orlev certainly received a boost early this week when the government endorsed all of the findings of the Dorner Commission of Inquiry into the Holocaust Survivors and announced that it would pay to some 43,000 survivors the additional monthly stipend recommended by the commission, retroactive to January 2008. Without Orlev's committee, there is no question that the survivors would not have received this badly needed income. Whether the two new commissions will have a similar beneficial impact on the issues they will be asked to investigate remains to be seen. But Orlev's activism went further than the establishment of three commissions of inquiry. His committee also asked State Comptroller Micha Lindenstraus to prepare individual reports on at least 12 other controversial subjects including the Pollard issue, the burial services in Gush Dan, the preparation of meals in government schools, the Falash Mura immigration, the dispute over the building occupied by settlers on Worshipers' Way in Hebron, the delays in housing construction in Harish, and several others. During a changing of the guard ceremony in the committee on Thursday morning, Lindenstraus revealed that he had balked at the large number of topics the committee had asked him to investigate. Orlev ran the committee in a partisan way, stressing topics that were of interest to his constituency. He was a master at keeping a tight rein on meetings dealing with subjects that often inflamed passions and could easily have gotten out of hand. The Knesset has been regarded as "the sick man" of the three government branches for many years. Orlev used the committee to strengthen the legislature by turning it into a watchdog of the executive with newly grown, sharp teeth. He regarded the fact that the government endorsed the Dorner Commission findings and decided to implement them immediately as a victory for the Knesset. Now, he is turning the reins over to another consummate parliamentarian in Eitan, who shares Orlev's desire to strengthen the Knesset and has promised to continue this new-found parliamentary activism.