Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has decided not to defend the appointment of Major-General Yoav Galant as the next Israel Defense Forces chief of staff at the High Court of Justice, Ynet has learned.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will now have to decide whether to hand the issue back to the Turkel Committee, which examines senior civil service appointments.
Netanyahu could decide to hire a private lawyer to defend Galant at the High Court instead of Weinstein. Another possibility is to appoint a different chief of staff, forcing current IDF Chief Gabi Ashkenazi to stay on for a while.
Minister Michael Eitan, who was the first to demand that the state comptroller look into the seized land affair, said in response to the attorney general's decision that "this is a clear message that the State won't defend those who misuse their position for benefits."
Weinstein made the decision several hours before the deadline set by the High Court to respond to a petition aimed at preventing the appointment. According to the petition, which sparked a public row in recent weeks, Galant allegedly seized state lands and annexed them to his home in Moshav Amikam.
Galant's house in Amikam (Photo: Ido Erez)
A report released by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstruass last week revealed that Galant seized 7 acres of land, violating an approval he received from the Israel Land Administration, and did not tell the truth in a deposition on the matter.
The attorney general told Netanyahu there were serious legal difficulties stemming from Galant's conduct, particularly due to his failure to tell the truth in two cases – a court discussion and an Israel Land Administration debate.
'Affair caused huge damage to IDF'
"It's incomprehensible," a senior IDF officer told Ynet on Tuesday in response to the attorney general's decision. "Such a sensitive and important procedure prolonged and carried out in such an embarrassing manner. There is a very bad feeling. This isn't a workers' union in a local factory, but the IDF. The damage caused here is huge."
Meanwhile, a rally planned by former members of the Shayetet elite naval commando in solidarity with Galant has been called off.
In light of the recent developments, defense establishment officials estimated that the IDF chief's swearing in ceremony, scheduled to take place in less than two weeks, would be canceled.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was the person who decided to appoint Galant as the IDF's 20th chief of staff, will have to decide whether to extend Lieutenant-General Ashkenazi's term until a replacement is found for Galant.
Galant met with Attorney General Weinstein on Sunday to try and convince the attorney general to oppose the Green Party petition, which charged that Galant had built a private parking lot and two access roads to it on public land, had extended his homestead plot by 350 square meters, had received an allotment of 8.5 acres of agricultural land from the Israel Lands Administration when none of the other "late-comers" to Moshav Amikam had received any land, and that he had unilaterally taken over an adjacent plot which did not belong to him, and had extended his private garden by "annexing" nearby public land.
Galant insisted that he had approached the building and planning authorities before construction on his home's extension had begun, adding that he had acted in good faith. Lindenstrauss' report claimed he asked authorities for permission retroactively.
As for the claim that he lied in a sworn affidavit, Galant said he did not do so intentionally and that the discrepancies between the comptroller's version and his own are the result of mistakes and problematic wording.
Hanan Greenberg and Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report
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