The Israeli Cabinet, voting along partisan lines, today rejected a proposal to establish a state commission of inquiry into the 1984 beating deaths of two captured Palestinian bus hijackers and a subsequent cover-up.
The Cabinet's 14-to-11 vote means that there will be a normal police inquiry into what has become known here as the Shin Bet affair, after the name of the Israeli security service.
Attorney General Yosef Harish had warned yesterday that he would immediately order what is expected to be a less-comprehensive police investigation if the ministers rejected his proposal for an inquiry by a special commission.
A police investigation will not be able to delve as deeply into the possible involvement of high political figures as could a judicial commission, according to critics of the approach. It will be able to question Cabinet ministers, but no charges can be brought against them unless their immunity is lifted by a vote of parliament.
The results of the police inquiry are to be delivered to the attorney general for a decision on whether to charge anyone.
Police Minister Chaim Bar-Lev said after today's meeting that "first thing tomorrow morning, the police will turn to the court and ask that this inquiry be a secret inquiry." He said the goal would be to ban publication of all details of the investigation, including its scope and the names of witnesses called.
Bar-Lev called the vote a "technical defeat" for Prime Minister Shimon Peres' Labor Alignment, which shares power in Israel's coalition government with the rightist Likud Bloc.
The two slain Palestinians were among four who hijacked an Israeli bus in April 1984. They were captured alive but were beaten to death in a nearby field.