JERUSALEM (Jul. 14)
The Cabinet voted 14-11 Monday to reject the creation of a judicial com mission of inquiry to investigate the Shin Bet affair. As a result, Attorney General Yosef Harish will proceed with a police investigation and the Cabinet officially took note of his intention.
The two main components of the unity government, Labor and Likud, were deadlocked 10-10 on the issue. Communications Minister Amnon Rubinstein of the Shinui Party voted with Labor in favor of a commission. The three religious ministers, Yosef Burg, Yitzhak Peretz and Avraham Shapira, sided with Likud against a judicial inquiry.
Although Harish had spelled out reasons why a judicial commission was, from the government’s point of view, preferable to a police probe, rightwing Knesset members congratulated the Cabinet decision. Leftwingers lambasted it.
The investigation involves allegations that Avraham Shalom as head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, and three of his top aides were criminally implicated in the unexplained deaths of two Arab bus hijackers in custody of security agents in April 1984 and engaged in elaborate cover-ups at two subsequent quasi-judicial inquiries.
Former Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir ordered a police investigation of the case, but the order was rescinded by Harish, who replaced Zamir last month. The government, from the outset, had been reluctant to initiate an inquiry on grounds of State security. to initiate an inquiry on grounds of State security. The fear was that top secret operations of Shin Bet would be exposed.
But the Cabinet’s hope that the matter was laid to rest after President Chaim Herzog granted blanket pardons to Shalom and his aides last month, was dashed when the Supreme Court intervened. The high court, hearing challenges to the pardons by several legal groups, ordered the government on July I to show cause why an official inquiry should not be launched.
ATTORNEY SOUGHT JUDICIAL COMMISSION
Harish, who must reply to the court order this week, told the Cabinet that a police investigation was the least desirable of its two options. He urged a judicial commission which would conduct its hearings in strict secrecy under terms of reference that would not compromise the Shin Bet’s operations. However, Harish made clear that he would have to order a police probe if the Cabinet rejected his recommendation.
He said he could not face the high court with out a decision, one way or the other. Harish said Monday night that the four Shin Bet men involved would be interrogated by the police but no charges would be brought against them since they were pardoned in advance by the President.
But Premier Shimon Peres, who had been willing to go along with a judicial, inquiry, warned Monday that a police probe could implicate “others, ” meaning apparently Shin Bet agents not pardoned.
Legal experts said Monday that the police could also investigate the political echelons, although Cabinet Ministers and Knesset members are immune from prosecution unless their immunity is lifted by the Knesset.
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, leader of Likud, was Prime Minister at the time of the bus hijack incident and could conceivably be questioned by the police. Shin Bet is responsible only to the Prime Minister.
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, is considering petitions to declare the Presidential pardons invalid, But it is not certain the court will ever act on them. The Justices affirmed that President Herzog acted within his constitutional powers.
The petitioners contend that the Shin Bet chief and his aides, having never been officially charged with any offenses, were in fact not offenders in the legal sense and therefore ineligible for pardons.