Olmert Sacks Critical Truce Negotiator

Outgoing Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert on Monday, February 23, relieved his pointman on Egyptian-brokered truce talks with Hamas after he publically criticized the embattled premier for changing the conditions for a long-time ceasefire.

"The prime minister decided to suspend Amos Gilad from his functions as negotiator with Egypt as he no longer enjoys his confidence," a senior government official told Agence France Presse (AFP), requesting anonymity.

"Gilad had a sensitive role as he carried negotiations with Egypt on a truce and the liberation of Gilad Shalit, but unfortunately his behavior, in particular an interview given last week to the daily Maariv, lost him the confidence of his superiors."

Gilad had criticized Olmert and the security government for changing the rules of the negotiations by linking a truce deal to the release of the Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian groups in 2006.

He warned that the new position was "insulting" to the Egyptians who had been working hard to bridge gaps between Israel and Hamas for a 18-month truce.

The dismissal decision was followed by an official complaint filed by Olmert against Gilad with Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander.

"Gilad’s statements as expressed in the letter are particularly serious, and seem to harm Israel’s foreign relations and the prime minister’s status," read the complaint, a copy of which was forwarded to Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

"In light of this, I ask you to immediately order a disciplinary investigation against Amos Gilad, and, inasmuch as disciplinary infractions are found, to take binding measures."

Backfire

Gilad’s dismissal decision drew immediate rebuke from defense ministry officials as harmful.

"It is the prime minister’s right not to rely on the ability and expertise of Amos Gilad, but it is Israel who suffers the consequences," defense officials told Haaretz.

Gilad, an aide to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, has been shuttling between Cairo and Tel Aviv to turn two unilateral ceasefires declared by Israel and Hamas after the three-week Israeli Gaza onslaught into a long-term truce.

"It is a shame that all this background noise is drowning out the negotiations on the really important issues," the officials said.

Barak weighed in, issuing a statement of support for Gilad.

"The defense establishment believes we should focus on advancing Gilad Shalit’s release and utilizing the achievements of Operation Cast Lead instead of intra-governmental disputes."

He said Gilad contributed to preserving relations with Egypt after Israel launched the Gaza war which killed nearly 1400 Palestinians and wrecked havoc on its infrastructure.

"It’s a shame that in the last days of his government, the prime minister chose an extreme way of attacking and attempting to exercise the full rigor of the law with a dedicated and excellent civil servant."

(IslamOnline.net and Agencies)

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