Government coordinator in territories - AWOL?

Defense source denies claims that the office, to be headed by Brig.-Gen. Dangot, has been neglected.

By
August 27, 2009 22:32
Government coordinator in territories - AWOL?

Eitan Dangot idf 248 88 aj. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Some say the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories has been neglected due to an ongoing dispute between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi over who should head the office. On Tuesday evening, Barak and Ashkenazi finally settled their differences, and named Barak's security adviser, Brig.-Gen. Eitan Dangot, as the new coordinator. Dangot, will be promoted to major-general and replace the caretaker coordinator, Maj.-Gen. (res). Amos Gilad, who is also head of the Defense Ministry's diplomatic-military bureau. The Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) is often confused with the IDF's Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, but the civil administration is actually subordinate to the office. Housed at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, COGAT is supposed to work with a range of organizations, including the Palestinian Authority, to shape government policy in the Palestinian territories, and then to implement that policy. In addition, COGAT oversees the transfer of goods into the Gaza Strip, and has final say on what can and cannot enter. And whenever Defense Minister Ehud Barak decides to remove a West Bank checkpoint to ease conditions for Palestinian civilians, COGAT advises him on which roadblock to remove, according to a COGAT source who spoke to The Jerusalem Post this week. Similarly, the source said, when Barak elects to remove an illegal settlement outpost, COGAT point out on a map which outpost should be removed. Attorney Michael Sfard represents Yesh Din - Volunteers for Human Rights, which holds that the rights of Palestinians are systematically violated. He told the Post that for the past few years, COGAT has been absent from any decision-making in the West Bank. "I deal with the civil administration all the time. I know the name of every lawyer and inspector at the civil administration. But COGAT? I have not interacted with anyone from COGAT in years," Sfard said. "Theoretically, there is a special structure, according to which the civil administration is subordinate to COGAT. On the ground, though, whenever I sought to speak to someone who is above the civil administration, I ended up at the IDF's Central Command, not COGAT," he added. "Once, COGAT was more powerful," Sfard said. The COGAT source strongly disagreed, saying, "The position of the coordinator is one of the most influential aspects of the decision-making process on these issues." Over the past year, COGAT has recommended that several roadblocks in the West Bank be dismantled, decisions which "has improved the quality of life of Palestinian civilians," the source said. The IDF's Central Command weighs in on the security risk involved in removing any particular roadblock, and the defense minister then decides which checkpoint can safely be removed, he added. When it comes to demolishing illegal settlement outposts, COGAT has been a key element in deciding which outposts must go, the source said. "We explain to the defense minister that one particular outpost, set up on Palestinian agricultural land, will prevent the Palestinians from working their land and will have negative consequences," he said. The settlement movement has accused COGAT of implementing a discriminatory policy of demolishing Jewish outposts, while ignoring illegal Palestinian construction. Itzik Shadmi, a former IDF lieutenant-colonel and a member of the Binyamin Settlers Committee, said, "The place where settlers meet the coordinator is the civil administration. This is the only place where we interact with COGAT." He added, "The unbelievable policy of the civil administration has been to enforce a zero-policy for Jewish construction, while ignoring all Arab construction in 'Area C,' where Israel has full civilian jurisdiction." Describing the policy as "catastrophic," Shadmi said, "I assume the policy is being carried out in accordance with the coordinator, rather than civil administration inspectors deciding this on their own. The result is that the Arabs are building at a dizzying pace without any monitoring. They're building like crazy, and no one is dealing with it. But if the Jews put up a caravan or a cabin, police Special Patrol officers and the state's rottweilers are sent in to ruin it." Shadmi warned that settlers were close "to losing their patience and may cease coordinating construction projects with the authorities all together. "This is a pressure cooker with no outlet," he said. "You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't," the COGAT source said. "We are condemned by the Right, the Left and from abroad. Everyone says what we're doing is wrong. It's a full time, non-stop job, and a highly sensitive job. We look out for the vital needs of Israelis and Palestinians alike," he said. The outgoing coordinator, Amos Gilad, "has been criticized for doing a partial job since he holds another post, but the truth is he should be complimented for his excellent work. He has invested many hours in the office and he treated it as a full time job," the source said. "Gilad has personally approved the entrance of every sick person from Gaza who entered Israel to receive hospital care. He has ensured that the hospital is prepared on the day to receive the Gazan patient, and that the necessary equipment is ready," he said. While COGAT is routinely slammed by the international community for limiting the amount of fuel and cement that enters the Gaza Strip, "the humanitarian aid we provide in the form of bringing the sick into Israel is never pointed out," the source said. COGAT also approves the entrance of Gazan physicians into Israel to receive specialist training. But, the source said, "Hamas has on many occasions prevented doctors from leaving the Strip, because they accuse them of being affiliated with Fatah." Furthermore, the source argued, "there is no real blockade of Gaza because supplies are getting in. The problem is that since Hamas has come to power, it seizes humanitarian goods and prevents Palestinian civilians from receiving them. We have clear evidence of livestock coming in which never arrives at the hands of Palestinian civilians, but rather only goes to Hamas." Recently, Gilad had objected to allowing livestock into the Strip, but was overruled by Barak on the issue two weeks ago. "I doubt Gazan civilians will now be holding barbecues," the COGAT source said, adding that the livestock will only end up in Hamas's hands.

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