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A kind of military coup

By Haaretz Editorial, 21 May 2007

Does Israel still uphold that proper state of affairs in which the elected government sets policy and civil servants carry it out? According to an article published in Haaretz yesterday (“The spirit of the commander prevails” by Meron Rapoport), it seems that with regard to the army, the answer is negative. While ministers speak about a two-state solution, a kind of military coup is taking place in the West Bank, in which the Israel Defense Forces are turning the area into the state of the settlers. While the Palestinian population is being suffocated, the settlements are flourishing.

It does not make much difference whether the Defense Ministry is headed by a civilian minister, because the army has its own agenda, and its subordination to the government is often simulated. For years, Israel was proud of the democratic miracle of an obedient army that did not accumulate too much power and served the elected government loyally, even though the country was engaged in a continual existential war. During the last war, however, cracks appeared in this faith, when it turned out that the cabinet had been dragged into approving military plans that were never even submitted to it. And even worse things happen every day in the occupied territories. Haggai Alon, an adviser to the defense minister who is responsible for the fabric of life in the West Bank, says that the army disregards the government’s diplomatic agenda and essentially serves as the settlers’ army. Or at least, that is how it was throughout Dan Halutz’s tenure as chief of staff.

One shocking example of this democratic crisis is the army’s disregard of court decisions regarding the route of the separation fence. After years of High Court of Justice hearings on every meter of the fence, with the goal of striking a balance between security needs and the needs of Palestinian daily life, it turns out that along Route 317, which links several settlements in the southern Mount Hebron area, the army ignored these decisions and built a mini-fence in addition to the one that was formally approved – and it is located along the original route that the High Court nixed.

Additionally, a section of the fence near the Trans-Samaria Highway, which was supposed to be built near the Green Line, was never completed due to the settlers’ objections. The army also stopped conducting security checks on cars with Israeli license plates due to the protests lodged by settlers, who did not want to stop at the checkpoints – even though an explosives-laden car with an Israeli license plate recently entered Israel. The IDF does not report to the government on how many roadblocks there are in the West Bank; thus the government can talk about making life easier for the Palestinians while the army refrains from doing so. Similarly, thanks to assistance from IDF officers, settlers moved into a disputed house in Hebron; downtown Hebron was closed to Palestinians; and 3,000 demonstrators reached the evacuated settlement of Homesh in defiance of the government’s decision. Settlements are also expanding in various places because the army has turned a blind eye, and sometimes even with its active assistance.

In light of all this, Amir Peretz’s talk about dismantling West Bank settlement outposts, like Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni’s promises to reach a new agreement on dividing the land between Israel and Palestine, sounds emptier than ever. It evidently makes no difference which party is in power, as long as the army serves the settlers rather than the state.