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Israel's Junta – IDF Overrules Barak in Sansana

The High Planning Council of the IDF Civil Administration has rejected a plan already approved by Israel's elected leaders.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 2/24/2012, 1:39 PM

Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak
Flash 90

The IDF Civil Administration on Thursday took the unprecedented step of rejecting a government plan to normalize the status of the Sansana community in the South Hebron Hills.

In Israel, as in other democracies, military officials are committed to policy decisions made by civilian officials and are expected to implement their directives in good faith. That holds for IDF military operations and IDF civil administration alike.

The Civil Administration decision that "there is no justification for a new settlement, as [new homes] can be constructed within an existing settlement" comes 12 years after Sansana was established. The Civil Administration does not have standing in the issue.

In 1997 a Nahal outpost was established at Sansana, but the first homes were not built until 1999. In 2000, the first families moved to Sansana, which currently has 60 families.

In 2009 Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved a plan to for 440 housing units at the Sansana site, including retroactively approving some that already existed.

However, to avoid violating a promise to Washington not to build "new settlements", the plan was presented as "an extension of nearby Eshkolot."

Now, three years after Barak approved the plan, officials in the Civil Administration are overruling their boss, who represents Israel's civilian authority.

Civil Administration planning committee chairman Shlomo Moskowitz wrote "There is no need to 'expand' Eshkolot," arguing there was "plenty of room" for new housing within the community's existing boundaries.

He noted Eshkalot is slated for 347 housing units, of which only 70 have been built. He also argued that Sansana is 7km from Eshkolot and that there was "no justification" not to build in Eshkolot itself.

Most shockingly, he wrote that the IDF Civil Administration planning committee is the only body that can approve building plans in Judea and Samaria, and "does not take dictates from the government."

Critics of Moskowitz's decision say it effectively turns the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria into a "junta" and violates all democratic mores that inform civil-military relations.

Civilian control of the military is a doctrine in military and political science that places ultimate responsibility for a country's strategic decision-making in the hands of the civilian political leadership, rather than professional military officers.

Seen as a prerequisite for a stable democracy, it flows from the rationale that broad strategic decisions, such as the decision to declare a war, start an invasion, end a conflict, or expand settlement in 'disputed territories' have a major impact on the citizens of the country.

As such, civilian control allows the people (through their elected political representatives) to determine the course of actions, rather than leaving decisions in the hands of an elite group of narrowly focused tactical experts, who are not elected legislators.

Observers say Moskowitz's decision will complicate the stated policy of Israel's sitting elected government to normalize threatened Jewish communities like Sansana, but that the government will have to find a way to show that it rules the military - and its civil administration.

As Treasury MInister Steinitz (Likud) said this week when budget issues caused friction between the IDF and the Treasury, "In democracies, the government decides and the army salutes."