Barbs fly at key committee meeting

Olmert attacked by left, right, Netanyahu at Foreign Affairs and Defense Cmte.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faced off with Likud Leader Binyamin Netanyahu Wednesday, in what Knesset members called "the most fierce" Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting this session. Even as the Knesset convened for a special session to establish an inquiry into the Amona evacuation, Olmert told the committee that the day after elections he could (and would) overrule the investigation. "I will not allow such a committee to be established against our security forces," Olmert declared. MK Arye Eldad (National Union) promised Olmert that the Knesset would vote against the committee if the prime minister's office took it upon itself to launch an investigation. "No such investigation will be launched," Olmert said. "You are sitting here blaming me for telling the police officers to use zero tolerance against settlers throwing rocks. But I will not be blamed." Several hours later, when the Knesset voted to approve the investigation, a Kadima spokesman announced that if Olmert was elected in the upcoming elections, the committee would be canceled. "How is it that you came here today without cavalry?" asked MK Effi Eitam, whose injury during the Amona evacuation aroused controversy after the source of his injury, which he claimed was from a horse-mounted policeman, was disputed by security officials. "I was told that you were coming unarmed," answered Olmert. "Do not bother me as you bother the horses." Eitam responded by asking the acting prime minister if he intended to raze unauthorized Bedouin buildings as well. Olmert replied that he has acted more in this regard than other "chatter boxes." Meanwhile, MK Taleb a-Sanaa called Eitam a racist and an inciter of hatred against Beduins in the Negev. A-Sanaa accused Eitam of running his election campaign at the expense of the Arabs. Olmert also defended the government's decision to give the Palestinian Authority $50 million in taxes due to be paid by Israel on February 3, saying that the Palestinians used the money to repay debts to Israeli companies and to pay salaries, but not for terrorism. Olmert and Netanyahu exchanged barbs over the transfer of these funds, with Netanyahu lambasting Olmert for his decision to continue transferring money. "The entire Palestinian Authority has turned into Hamas in the wake of the new parliament's swearing-in ceremony," Olmert said, promising that he would not, "distinguish between shades." The acting prime minister said that 50 percent of the money transferred to the PA from Israel had been distributed among Israeli companies who were providing the PA with services, and the remainder was used for salaries. "This means that the chances are low that the money would be used for terror," said Olmert. When Netanyahu argued that he, as Finance Minister, had not been given the choice to transfer funds to the PA, Olmert quipped that in his term in the Finance Ministry he had experienced "free will" to make decisions regarding money transfers. Netanyahu also attacked Olmert for allowing the Palestinian elections to take place in an environment that generated a Hamas victory. Recalling statements made Tuesday by former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, Netanyahu accused the government of responsibility for Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections by disengaging from the Gaza Strip this past summer. "Sharon would not have allowed the elections in east Jerusalem to take place," said Netanyahu. "I know what a close, intimate relationship you and [Ariel] Sharon shared," replied Olmert in sarcasm. "I know Sharon would have allowed the elections to take place, and I could give you written proof... now the whole world knows what the Palestinian chose democratically." On the subject of Iran, Olmert called President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad an anti-Semite, and a racist. "Ahmadinejad is an anti-Semite, a racist, and an Israel-hater, but there's no point in holding a competition of inflammatory statements with him." These statements came one day after the quartet decided to continue funding the Palestinian Authority so long it was run by an interim government. They also pledged to continue humanitarian support for the Palestinians.