Against the Tide

On Minister Eitan's investigation into allegedly illegal use of land by IDF chief-designate Galant, and MK Shama-Hacohen's battle to become chairman of the Knesset economics committee - as was promised him.

For the past three months, Michael Eitan, the minister for the improvement of government services, has been busy investigating a case involving allegedly illegal use of property by the chief of staff-designate, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant. Eitan has collected testimonies and documents, visited and photographed the site in question. Last week, he met to discuss the case with the assistant attorney general, Malchiel Blass, and he has a meeting scheduled with State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss.

The affair was uncovered a few months ago in an investigative report by Maariv reporter Kalman Livskind, in which it was claimed that Galant had illegally annexed public land to his private property in Moshav Amikam, outside Zichron Yaakov, in order to build a driveway and a parking area, and extend his garden. The committee charged with approving candidates for high public office, which is headed by retired Justice Jacob Turkel, described the case as a dispute between neighbors.

Two months ago today, on September 5, the government approved Galant's appointment as Israel Defense Forces chief. Eitan was the only minister who voted against the appointment - and that was before he knew what he knows now about the affair.

Yoav Galant
Tomer Appelbaum

The following are excerpts taken from Eitan's investigative report, which was received by Haaretz and covers the activities of the chief of staff-designate, the Turkel committee and the state prosecution, which defended Galant's appointment before the High Court of Justice.

Writes Eitan: "The candidate [Galant] added to his property, in breach of the planning and building laws, open public areas ... The candidate submitted a false plan to the local planning and building committee, with the aim of receiving legal authorization by illegal means ... The candidate knowingly received benefits from confidants who worked for him ... without a permit and with the use of funds whose source is unknown ... The candidate gave the Turkel committee false information ... The candidate made illegitimate use of the services of the unit that protects senior officers in the IDF, and enlisted it and its head in his legal battle, and in the preparation of the illegal road that was paved for him - invoking a base, cynical and mendacious security claim that the road is an escape route ... The major general behaved like a common offender when ignoring repeated calls by the Israel Lands Administration in January 2006 to vacate the area ..."

According to Eitan, the procedures used to allow Galant to annex the land to his property were "manipulations designed by sources within the ILA and by the major general."

The report adds: "The advisory [Turkel] committee could have looked into the matter but chose to ignore it ... If the advisory committee had done its work properly, the public would have received an answer about these suspicions ... "

Eitan writes in a letter to the attorney general: "The presentation of a misleading position to the High Court of Justice by those entrusted with the preservation of the rule of law and the upholding of probity, will pave the way for particular criminal acts - and, worse, will seriously undermine the struggle against corruption and the struggle to inculcate governmental norms of probity in public administration."

Why in the world is a cabinet minister dealing with these issues?

Eitan: "I am aware of allegations concerning a politician's involvement in an internal prosecutorial procedure. Justice Turkel, too, maintained that it is not my job to go to the attorney general, but rather to the government. I dispute that. When I learned about the affair, I thought it was a spat between neighbors. Suddenly I discovered that there is a systemic failure here and corruption on the part of all the institutions he dealt with."

Do you now expect the government to cancel Galant's appointment?

"I want to take this case all the way; let it be examined and investigated. I want Galant to have to give explanations. Maybe they will satisfy me. The public must have explanations without delay. Galant cannot serve as chief of staff as long as these suspicions are hanging over him."

'I will not be a puppet'

It would seem to be a trivial matter. Two young Likud MKs are fighting over the chairmanship of the Knesset's Economic Affairs Committee: the present chairman, Ofir Akunis, and Carmel Shama-Hacohen, who was due to replace him this week, according to a party faction decision. After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to block the rotation by other means, he asked the Likud faction to agree to a 45-day delay.

A decision by the faction is binding. Shama-Hacohen was the first MK to back Netanyahu after the speech in which the premier spoke of a two-state solution, and the first MK to support the construction freeze in the settlements. Shama-Hacohen also supported all the reforms advocated by Netanyahu. As a member of the Economic Affairs Committee, for example, he prepared the groundwork for the reform of the Israel Lands Administration. Akunis, for his part, was a spokesperson for Netanyahu in the past and in large measure still is.

So why was the prime minister so insistent on a delay? The answer lies in a series of bills that are due to be discussed by the economic committee, including: legislation relating to Israel Hayom, Netanyahu's "house" newspaper; the reform of the Israel Broadcasting Authority; proposals relating to television franchisees; and a stipulation in the Arrangements Law forcing government bodies to advertise on their websites, instead of in the daily papers (which would cause certain papers heavy losses ).

Shama-Hacohen has never criticized the freebie Israel Hayom, and he also refused to sign a bill that would have prevented its owner, American tycoon Sheldon Adelson, from owning a newspaper in Israel.

But Netanyahu's aides discovered that Shama-Hacohen's "pals" in the Knesset are Miri Regev, from the Likud, a traditional opponent of the premier; Nachman Shai (Kadima ), who is categorized by Netanyahu's bureau as a bitter rival, because of his ties to the Broadcasting Authority; and Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ).

"Tell me," Shama-Hacohen asked Netanyahu in a faction meeting this week. "What did I ever do to you? When did I ever vote against you? When did I ever say anything bad about you, that you are now fighting me like this? I stood by you during every ordeal."

"It's not personal," Netanyahu said, lowering his eyes.

When MK Yariv Levin asked for the floor, Moshe Kahlon, the communications minister, called out, "If you intend to say you are embarrassed, go ahead. We are all embarrassed here."

A few months ago, Shama-Hacohen had a chance encounter with Ilan Ben Dov, owner of the Partner mobile telephone company. During their conversation, Shama-Hacohen mentioned that in another few months he would become chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee. To which Ben Dov replied, "My understanding is that you will not be the chairman."

This week, Shama-Hacohen related, "I asked how he knew that. He refused to say. In a meeting [we had a few days later], I told Netanyahu I was getting hints the rotation would not go through. 'Of course, it will,' he said. 'I'm surprised you listen to groundless gossip.'"

A month later, however, Netanyahu told Shama-Hacohen he wanted Akunis to continue as chairman, and offered Shama-Hacohen the post of deputy minister of justice, of public security or of communications. Shama-Hacohen refused.

"Last Thursday," Shama-Hacohen says, "Netanyahu's aides told me ... the committee job was mine, as stipulated in the agreement. On Friday I read in Israel Hayom that the rotation would be implemented. I was calm. On Sunday morning, I hear that Netanyahu is calling in [Likud] ministers and urging them to vote for a 60-day delay at the faction meeting on Monday. Ministers who objected were scolded. It was clear they would not vote against him. In the end it became 45 days.

"At one point, [Netanyahu's] people said, 'If you agree to let Akunis handle one issue, just one issue, we will give in and you will be committee chair. I asked them if they were referring to the gas royalties, but they said no. 'So what is it?' I asked. 'We'll get back to you,' they said, but never did."

What has all this taught you about Netanyahu?

"That he is ready to bend basic democratic rules, to bend a faction and a faction chairman. He may not understand it, but he has essentially put a foot on a slippery slope."

Will you continue to support him?

"I will not be a puppet. I will not change my position on the diplomatic and economic issues, but when it comes to political issues, I will not follow him blindly."