Compromise would keep Bar-Lev issue on backburner until after elections

The High Court of Justice on Monday persuaded Police Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Police Inspector-General Dudi Cohen to take one more stab at breaking the impasse which has been leading to Bar-Lev's dismissal from the force. A panel of three justices headed by Asher Grunis urged the two sides to stop making inflammatory statements against each other and talk calmly. He said the court would reconvene in 15 days to hear whether they had reached an accommodation. In the meantime, the status quo will remain in force. Bar-Lev has been suspended from his post almost since the crisis began. Dichter decided to fire Bar-Lev, who is credited with bringing law and order to the Southern Police District, after the senior officer refused to take two years off active duty to study or resign from the force. Shortly before that, Cohen decided on a new round of appointments and excluded Bar-Lev from the senior command. He told Bar-Lev to take a leave of absence to study or resign from the force. Dichter backed Cohen. In response, Bar-Lev, represented by Attorney Ya'acov Ne'eman, petitioned the High Court. During Monday's hearing, Ne'eman rejected the state's argument that Bar-Lev ought to be fired because he had refused to take a leave of absence to study and had created a crisis of confidence in the police. "All Bar-Lev wants to do is serve the public faithfully," Ne'eman told the court. "He has not demanded a promotion." Ne'eman added that usually it was the policeman who asked the police commissioner for study leave and not the other way around. Bar-Lev already had two academic degrees and did not want to study any more, the attorney continued. "[Dichter and Cohen] are just trying to prove to Bar-Lev that they're stronger, that they can get the best of him. Then they fire him because he is not prepared to study and waste the public's money for something that is not necessary." Ne'eman asked the court to let Bar-Lev serve out his term as head of the Southern District, which is due to end on May. After that, the police would decide what to do with him. But the court and the state rejected the proposal out of hand. Two of the justices, Miriam Na'or and Edna Arbel, urged Ne'eman to accept a compromise whereby he would take a short leave of absence of six months instead of the two years proposed by Cohen. What the court, the petitioners and the respondents all knew but did not say, was that by the end of that time, Dichter would likely no longer be serving as public security minister, and perhaps new developments would resolve the dispute without the court's intervention. Bar-Lev and Dichter have already met twice since the crisis began. The first meeting took place immediately after Cohen announced his changes. The upshot was that Dichter decided to back his chief of police. The second meeting was during a formal hearing for Bar-Lev held by Dichter in October to determine whether or not to fire him. The upshot of that meeting was that Dichter recently gave Bar-Lev two weeks to accept the study leave or be fired.