The collapse of seaside cliffs in Israel requires remedial action over large sections of the coast in Netanya, Herzliya and Ashkelon at a cost approaching half a billion shekels, according to a policy paper submitted to the Office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The document is to provide the basis for a cabinet decision on the steps needed to preserve the cliffs.

The state must take the initiative in preserving the cliffs, says the paper, or find itself liable for property damage caused by the cliffs' collapse. One possible option is establishing a coastal authority to protect the cliffs.

The Prime Minister's Office set up a special steering committee on the issue to come up with a draft cabinet resolution based on the policy paper, which was prepared by the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

Geological findings submitted to the steering committee show that the Mediterranean cliffs extending over 45 kilometers of coast from Ashkelon to Hadera retreat several dozen centimeters a year and will recede by several hundred meters to the east over the course of this century. This results from erosion by waves at the base of the cliffs and from damaging human activity. Construction of structures such as break-walls in port areas apparently block the flow of sand to the beaches, further harming the natural setting and increasing the pace of erosion.

The cliffs have collapsed in places, and four months ago a hiker was killed north of Netanya by a rockslide.

In the strip at risk of collapse, which is up to 50 meters wide in some spots, the monetary cost from damage to property could reach NIS 800 million, the policy paper says. The estimated cost of preserving the cliffs, NIS 225 million to NIS 470 million, is lower than the projected price tag of the property damage if the situation is not remedied, and the steering committee has been told steps for a physical remedy be taken.

On the basis of a survey of areas of risk, the policy paper recommends that measures be taken along a total of 11 to 13 kilometers of coast, including urban areas, area with private homes such as at Beit Yanai, and at unique archaeological sites such as the Crusader fortress at the northern end of Herzliya at Apollonia. In Netanya, five-and-a-half kilometers would be slated for reinforcement, while 4.1 kilometers of Herzliya coastline would be rehabilitated.

According to experts, no walls or structures should be built to protect the cliffs so the beaches would remain open to the public. Instead they suggest several measures such as shoring up the cliffs themselves or remedial construction in the water. At the same time, it is recommended that up to 50,000 cubic meters of sand be added to the beaches every year for a decade to widen the beachfront.

A portion of the recommendations could have far-reaching economic implications because some of the areas involved are adjacent to the most desirable building sites in the country. The policy paper recommends the government expropriate structures in areas in danger of collapse and bar construction of new buildings in these areas, noting the need to prepare for compensation claims from developers and land owners.

"After the government adopts a decision, we will have to deal with implementing it, especially with finding the budget to carry out the required work," said Galit Cohen, who heads the environmental policy division at the Environment Ministry. She added that "it is not clear if it will come from the local authorities, for example, through property tax."