'Ministers' conversations of 'national interest' should be documented'

MK Gal-On says conversations with massive implications for the nation are conducted without any official documentation.

Gal-On 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Gal-On 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Conversations with massive implications for the nation, including the decision to go to war, are conducted without any official documentation, Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On complained on Thursday. She was discussing her proposal to tighten the record keeping by cabinet members, including the prime minister. Gal-On and fellow Meretz lawmaker Ran Cohen are waiting for a new government to be installed before introducing a bill that would force cabinet ministers to document all of their conversations that involve the "national interest." The impetus for the bill, she said, came from the findings of the Winograd Committee on decision-making in the Second Lebanon War. The committee found that there was no documentation for at least two key conversations - one between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and then-chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz on July 12, 2006, in which they decided to go to war, and another between Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in which Livni later claimed that she opposed IDF ground operations in Lebanon. In both cases, the Winograd Committee was forced to rely on "he-said, she-said" testimony, as no protocols or transcripts were ever prepared. Gal-On seeks to put an end to this situation. Her proposal would add two clauses to the Government Law of 2001. The first would require that "if an oral discussion is held between ministers on topics of critical interest to Israel, all of the sides will file reports to the cabinet secretary that will be passed on every three months to the attorney-general." The second clause stresses that it is "the responsibility of the Prime Minister's Office to write protocols of all of his official conversations" and that those protocols will be passed once every three months to the Attorney-General's Office. The bill would also mandate stringent criteria as to who is allowed to request copies of the reports, and Gal-On said these might include investigative bodies like the Winograd Committee or the State Comptroller's Office. Gal-On said that in the past, even prime minister Golda Meir's informal "kitchen cabinet" had taken care to write protocols of its discussions and decisions, but that in recent years, the habit had fallen by the wayside. Gal-On requested - and received - a report from the Government Research Department comparing documentation procedures in the United States and Great Britain. In the US, the report said, the White House Communications Agency was responsible for all of the communications of the president and vice president, both domestically and when overseas. The agency, which was founded under president Franklin Roosevelt in 1942, receives its budget from the Pentagon but is not under the defense establishment's direct authority. Although many details of its operation are kept under cover, it is known that at least until 1989, the Communications Agency recorded all of the US president's conversations, both face-to-face and over the telephone. Although officially only important conversations were recorded, the Government Research Department report says that archival evidence indicates that many additional conversations were recorded as well.