Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov (Yisrael Beiteinu) told the Knesset Finance Committee yesterday that the Dead Sea region should be declared a national priority zone. He added that royalties paid by Israel Chemicals for potash extraction in the region should go into a special billion-shekel Dead Sea investment fund.
For his part, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) called for a reexamination of the tax rates that Israel Chemicals pays, saying that the company is enjoying a very high rate of return on capital. Accountant General Michal Abadi-Boiangiu said the state's share of Dead Sea Works' profits would be increasing.
The Finance Committee session was devoted to the agreement struck last month between the state and Israel Chemicals. The deal increases the royalties that the firm pays the state on its Dead Sea potash production and also provides for Israel Chemicals to extract salt build-up from the sea floor.
Misezhnikov, who opposes the deal with ICL, said yesterday that the failure to designate the area a national priority zone, and to create a billion-shekel fund for the further development of tourism in the area would "spell the end" for the Dead Sea region. The chance to secure the Dead Sea's future "will not present itself again," the minister said.
Commenting on the agreement with ICL, Erdan said: "The cabinet decision [approving the agreement] was a mistake and did not take all of the tourism and environmental factors into account. [The deal] didn't even ensure that the public's share of the profits from potash mining was increased."
Erdan added: "The Finance Ministry is only looking to maximize profits, but the Dead Sea is not a bathtub full of minerals to be extracted for maximum profit. Instead it is a highly essential national resource in a country that is about to become the most densely populated in the Western world."
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