galant - Itzik Ben-Malki - January 11 2011
The area of the alleged land encroachment at the home of IDF chief-designate Yoav Galant on Moshav Amikam. Photo by Itzik Ben-Malki
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The High Court of Justice lambasted government attorneys yesterday over their response to a petition against Yoav Galant's appointment as the next Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, saying they had changed their story since a previous hearing on this issue.

The court will announce its decision on the case, which revolves around the appropriation of state lands in Galant's hometown of Moshav Amikam, at a later date.

Justice Esther Hayut criticized the fact that in response to a previous High Court petition on the matter, state attorneys had claimed it was not only Galant who obtained land, but other families on the moshav as well. But at yesterday's hearing, the attorneys said only the Galant family had received 35 dunams of land from the Israel Lands Administration.

Justices Hayut, Uzi Vogelman and Isaac Amit also implicitly criticized government attorneys for terming the issue of Galant's takeover of state lands a mere "planning issue" - in other words, a technical matter.

The justices posed tough questions to government attorney Eynav Golomb. Among other things, they wondered why the planning error that formed part of the state's explanation for allocating the land to Galant had not been corrected since early 2008.

The justices were also unhappy with the timetable proposed by the government for correcting the flaws found in the land allocation.

"We had expected to receive a clearer answer on this matter," Hayut said. "We had expected that this matter would be resolved."

The petition, filed by environmentalists, argued that Galant took over lands to which he was not entitled and appropriated a path that was meant for pedestrians in order to make an access road to his home. They also accused Galant of working agricultural lands beyond those to which he was entitled and using public spaces to make a garden.

Panel approved appointment

A committee that vets the appointments of senior civil servants, headed by retired Justice Jacob Turkel, had concluded that there was nothing in Galant's use of these lands that would prevent his appointment.

The State Prosecutor's Office argued that this finding justified rejecting the petition. It also argued that there was no legal justification for intervening in either the committee's recommendations or the cabinet's subsequent decision to approve the appointment.

The petition took issue with both the Turkel Committee's conclusion and the state's argument that there were no grounds for intervention.

Nadav Appelbaum, representing the petitioners, argued that there were a series of flaws in the committee's work, with the most important being its failure to consider whether Galant's behavior in the matter of the lands accorded with the conduct expected of the holder of a senior position like the chief of staff.