JERUSALEM — Israeli Atty. Gen. Yosef Harish warned government ministers Sunday that if they do not appoint a state commission to investigate events surrounding the 1984 beating deaths of two Palestinian bus hijackers by their Israeli captors, he will use his authority to order a police investigation of the affair.
That ultimatum, given at Sunday's regular meeting of the Israeli Cabinet, apparently guarantees that there will be some further official inquiry into the politically explosive case in spite of the opposition of the rightist Likud Bloc, which makes up half of the ruling coalition.
Harish is scheduled to appear before the Supreme Court on Wednesday to explain the government's position in what has become known as the Shin Bet affair, and he told Cabinet members Sunday that unless they act before his court date, he will order a prompt police probe of the affair.
Accused of Covering Up
Shin Bet is the Hebrew designation for the secret security police, the Israeli equivalent of the FBI. Shin Bet agents were alleged to have been responsible for killing the two Palestinians, and the agency has been accused of covering up its involvement in the deaths.
Cabinet Secretary Yossi Beilin said Harish wants all aspects of the case investigated, including the question of political responsibility. If the government does not order an investigation, Harish has predicted, the Supreme Court will do so.
The government called an extraordinary Cabinet meeting for today to vote on its next move, and Prime Minister Shimon Peres, leader of the centrist Labor Alignment, is expected to consult beforehand with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud leader.
Threaten to Leave
Shamir and other Likud officials had previously threatened to leave the so-called national unity coalition government rather than go along with an investigation, which they say is bound to harm the country's vital security interests.
But two leading Likud Cabinet members were quoted in the Israeli press Sunday as saying that, while they still oppose an inquiry, they do not favor dismantling the coalition over the issue.
There were reports here Sunday night that Shamir would propose a compromise to Peres--perhaps an inquiry by a single individual.
Referring to Likud's objections to a probe on security grounds, Harish was quoted by Israel television Sunday night as saying that "the considerations are no longer real ones but political ones."
Shamir could be politically vulnerable in any investigation because Avraham Shalom, who headed the Shin Bet when the Palestinian terrorists were captured and killed after hijacking a bus, has admitted a role in the 1984 episode and asserted in court documents that he 1633907813of his superiors. As head of the Shin Bet, Shalom reported directly to the prime minister's office, and Shamir was prime minister at the time.
Shalom resigned last month in return for presidential pardons guaranteeing him and three other Shin Bet officers immunity from prosecution in the case.
Harish told Israel television Sunday night that "to protect the Shin Bet people who did not receive pardons and to protect the secrecy of the investigation, a commission of inquiry is preferable to a police investigation."
Complicating the Picture
Complicating the political picture is that fact that Shamir--who has denied ordering the bus hijackers killed and denied any knowledge of a cover-up--is scheduled to become prime minister again in October under a power-sharing arrangement in the Labor-Likud coalition agreement. Likud activists accuse Labor of trying to manipulate the Shin Bet affair to frustrate the scheduled job rotation and keep Peres in the top post.
Barring a compromise, sources close to Peres expressed doubt that he could win a Cabinet majority during today's meeting for a full judicial inquiry into the Shin Bet affair. That made the most likely alternative a police investigation, which would apparently please neither side.
"Nobody's happy," one senior government source said after Harish delivered his ultimatum. "Labor wants a commission of inquiry; Likud wants no investigation at all; so. . . . "
Government sources stressed that the picture could still change during what was expected to be intensive lobbying of wavering ministers overnight.
2 Key Swing Voters
Two key swing voters in the 25-member Cabinet--Interior Minister Yitzhak Peretz of the Shas religious party and Yigal Hurvitz, a minister without portfolio representing the Labor-aligned Ometz party--said Sunday that they would favor appointment of a single investigator to pursue the matter.
Peretz said, however, that "if there is no alternative but a police investigation or a commission of inquiry, I believe a commission of inquiry is the lesser of the evils."