Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) called upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday to convene a public committee to form recommendations on the proper use of all of the country's natural resources. This would include the production of mineral water, underwater sand harvesting, and phosphates and salt extraction from the Red Sea at Eilat.

Erdan had previously raised the issue in connection with a January 1 cabinet discussion regarding an agreement between Israel Chemicals and the state on royalties to be paid for exploitation of the Dead Sea's mineral wealth.

The committee would examine the entire subject of exploitation and use of resources, including the collection of information on natural resource reserves in Israel, Erdan suggests.

Its main mandate would be to develop policy on future mining activity, Erdan wrote to the prime minister.

He urged that the panel consider long-term implications as well as potential environmental damage caused by exploitation of natural resources. "Natural resources belong to the public at large," the minister wrote. "The state is holding the resources in trust, and its role is to act in the interest of the public."

The State of Israel issues licenses for the use of various natural resources, and this isn't only mining potash at the Dead Sea. It includes pumping mineral water by companies, quarrying and mining, allocation of land, and so forth, Erdan explained.

The principle of equitable distribution of these resources requires the public to get its fair share, said the minister. But it is the state's responsibility and obligation to make sure that happens.