"Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman is not holding a stopwatch in his hand," a source close to the minister told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, in response to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's statement that a decision on whether to split the functions of the attorney-general would take several months. "But if the prime minister finally decides not to split the functions, that would be a different story," he continued, hinting that Neeman might resign in such a case. Netanyahu, who met with the members of the attorney-general search committee and Neeman earlier in the day, informed them that he was still studying the justice minister's proposal to appoint a legal adviser to the government and a separate chief prosecutor. Neeman wants to split the State Attorney's Office into two offices: one responsible for criminal affairs, to be headed by the chief prosecutor, and the other responsible for civil and administrative matters, to be led by the legal adviser to the government. The prime minister told the members of the search committee, headed by retired Supreme Court justice Theodore Orr, that they should bear in mind that the candidates they nominated for the job would, for the time being at least, hold all the powers that the outgoing attorney-general, Menahem Mazuz, held today. Netanyahu added that since Mazuz had made it clear he would not stay on after January 31, when his term expired, the panel should make every effort to choose the three nominees quickly so the government could pick the new attorney-general before Mazuz retired. The source close to Neeman said Netanyahu's statement to the search committee did not surprise him. In fact, Neeman had told the committee weeks earlier that the next attorney-general would have the same powers as Mazuz for the time being. Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak welcomed Netanyahu's announcement, telling the party's Knesset faction afterward, "I think this is a victory of common sense... if it is implemented. It is a clear victory for our position in this very important matter." Labor has opposed Neeman's proposal all along. Barak urged that a public committee examine the issue before the government decided on the proposal. It is more than likely that the prime minister has refrained from supporting Neeman so far out of fear that Barak might foment a coalition crisis over the issue and perhaps leave the government. After the meeting with Netanyahu, the members of the search committee convened to see how to extricate themselves from the deadlock that has prevented them from agreeing on three nominees out of the 11 candidates, whose names will be submitted to Neeman and the government. There had been reports that at Monday's meeting, the committee would look beyond the current candidates for new ones on whom at least four of the five members - the minimum required - could agree. But according to some of the committee members, that did not happen. Instead, the committee continued to discuss the current candidates to see whether they could break the deadlock. Two of the panel members, former justice minister Moshe Nissim and Likud MK Yariv Levin, insist on nominating Jerusalem District Court Judge Noam Sohlberg and private attorney Yehuda Weinstein. The other three oppose both candidates. Orr and Tel Aviv University Prof. Eyal Benvenisti reportedly want Tel Aviv University Prof. Daphna Barak-Erez, Courts Administration head Moshe Gal and private attorney Zvi Agmon. Vexed by reports of bickering and politicization among the panel members, the Justice Ministry issued a statement saying the committee "expressed regret over reports in the media attributing extraneous considerations to committee members of one kind or another." The statement referred specifically to a report in Haaretz to the effect that Nissim and Levin were guided by political interests, and a report in another outlet criticizing Orr's handling of the committee. One member of the committee said the reports in the press had stung the members and that he had noticed a different atmosphere at Monday's meeting, in which they displayed more flexibility and willingness to listen to one another. Another member, however, said he had detected no change and that the committee members were just as entrenched in their opinions as they had been. He said he doubted they could reach agreement. The panel will convene on Wednesday.