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Peretz Snubs Olmert, Calls for Public Inquiry

In a change of position, Defense Minister Amir Peretz announced he supports the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the war in Lebanon - in opposition to PM Olmert's stance.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 9/1/2006, 9:48 AM / Last Update: 9/1/2006, 7:18 AM

Peretz thus undermines Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision of earlier this week not to submit to an official public commission of inquiry. Olmert wishes, instead, to appoint two or three internal committees to review governmental and military decisions prior to and during the war.

Olmert's committees would have no authority to subpoena witnesses or to have officials fired, whereas a state commission of inquiry would have these authorities.

Peretz’s new decision has resulted in anger in the Prime Minister’s Office, with aides calling the senior minister’s actions "dumb" and "designed only to save his own skin."

MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) continued this line of thought, saying, "Peretz is attempting to head off an internal challenge to his [Labor] party leadership." Hasson's logic, as explained by his spokesman to Arutz-7, is that if Labor, as expected, votes to support a state inquiry, Olmert will be forced to remove Labor from the government coalition and find a replacement. With Labor in the opposition, Peretz's position as party leader could be in grave danger - especially if he has not supported the party line. As leader of the party line, however, he would be likely to replace Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu as head of the Opposition in the Knesset.

Another opinion is that Peretz changed his mind because he suspected that Olmert's committees would not investigate all echelons equally. He felt that it was likely that the committee assigned to investigate the military's errors might be more "thorough" than that assigned to review the political echelons - leaving himself and the army to receive the brunt of the blame.

Within Labor, Ministers Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Yitzchak Herzog, and Shalom Simchon continue to oppose a state inquiry, and Ben-Eliezer - long interested in becoming the party leader - criticized Peretz today for "zig-zagging." Herzog, echoing PM Olmert, said a state inquiry would paralyze the country for a long while. Ministers Yuli Tamir, Eitan Cabel and Ophir Pines, on the other hand, are in favor, and Pines praised Peretz for his new stance.

Olmert phoned Labor Party ministers Thursday night, trying to convince them to support his proposal. Despite Labor's stance, it is likely that he will have a majority when the issues comes to a Cabinet vote on Sunday, because of the support of the Shas and Pensioners' parties.

Labor's Knesset faction whip MK Ephraim Sneh said at this morning's party meeting, "If the government turns down the party's demand for a state inquiry, the party will turn to other channels. A state inquiry can be called not only by the government, but also by the Knesset and the Knesset Audit Committee."