Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann won a partial victory Sunday in the latest round of the slugfest between the Olmert appointee and most of the upper echelons of the justice system when the cabinet approved a compromise on the selection process for the next attorney-general The decision went some distance toward giving the government a greater say in the appointment, but it was not the sea change Friedmann wanted. According to the compromise, hammered out by cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon, the Supreme Court president will appoint a retired judge to head the panel that will recommend candidates to the cabinet, but the appointment of the panel chairman will have to be authorized by the justice minister.
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Maimon said there were no "winners or losers" in this decision, nor any attempt to "twist anyone's arm." The appointment process has been at the center of tension between Friedmann and Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz over the last few weeks.
The resolution passed by a vote of 17 to 7, with former justice ministers Tzipi Livni and Meir Sheetrit joining Labor ministers Amir Peretz, Yuli Tamir, Shalom Simhon, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Isaac Herzog in voting against. The resolution also authorizes the cabinet to ask that it be given three candidates for attorney-general to choose from, another Friedmann proposal.
Olmert said that the fact that the government was dealing with the issue now did not mean that it intended to fire Mazuz, who has more than three years left to his tenure. Olmert said it was important to make such changes long before the appointment of the next attorney-general, to prevent claims the prime minister was trying to pick a "tailor made" successor to Mazuz.
Mazuz said no change was needed to the attorney-general selection process. The existing procedure was proposed by the Shamgar Committee and approved in 2000.
Livni and Sheetrit expressed similar sentiments.
"This is a problematic proposal and an agreement must be reached," Livni told the Kadima faction before the cabinet meeting.
Ministers had asked to delay the vote to provide time to reach a better compromise, but Friedmann insisted that the matter be brought to a vote as soon as possible.
Mazuz made clear, however, that he felt that the compromise answered concerns that Friedmann wanted to over-politicize the selection process.
"Friedmann's behavior is part of a trend to destroy the rule of law," former judge and attorney-general Yitzhak Zamir told Israel Radio. MK Ofir Paz-Pines (Labor) also said the opposition to Friedmann's plan was designed to preserve the rule of law, congratulating Labor ministers as well as Livni and Sheetrit on their 'No' votes.
But Sunday's cabinet debate was only one of a series of battles between Friedmann and the legal establishment. It sets the stage for this summer's expected skirmish over the nomination of the successor to State Attorney Eran Shendar, who has announced that he will leave office on August 1. Mazuz is leading the effort to find his replacement, but Friedmann is pushing for Mazuz to nominate three - not one - candidate, and to let the cabinet choose among them.