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A special search committee has recommended the chairman of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, Shaul Goldstein, to head the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Goldstein lives in the West Bank settlement of Neveh Daniel. If the cabinet approves his appointment, most state land will be controlled by people with a clear affinity to the settlers.

Bentzi Lieberman, a former Yesha Council of settlements chairman, was recently appointed director of the Israel Lands Administration, which is responsible for managing the 93 percent of Israeli land that is in the public domain.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan is expected to submit Goldstein's candidacy, which was approved unanimously yesterday, to the cabinet for a vote soon.

Erdan appointed the committee even though he was not legally required to do so. It was headed by environment ministry Director General Alona Shefer-Karo, an attorney. Members included Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser, one representative each from environmental and animal rights groups and a nature conservation scientist.

The final eight candidates interviewed by the panel included figures with a direct connection to conservation, including Jerusalem Biblical Zoo director Shai Doron. Other candidates, some of whom were rejected in earlier stages of the search, included senior serving or former Nature and Parks Authority officials.

Goldstein, 50, holds an MA in public policy from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was a lieutenant colonel in the Israel Air Force.

His nomination is expected to face criticism from environmental groups because once again the post will be filled by someone without professional experience in nature protection. His Likud membership will also be a factor; conservation officials have expressed concerns about possible political interference in the Nature and Parks Authority, which controls nearly 20 percent of state land and most of its historical sites including Masada and Jerusalem's City of David.

Since its establishment in 1995 the parks authority has been headed by people who came from outside the agency, including retired army officers. The last director, Brig. Gen. (res. ) Eli Amitai, was asked to resign over allegations of misconduct. He left about four months ago.

"The position of NPA director is an amazing, challenging, fascinating, very important job, and I hope to justify the trust given to me," Goldstein said. "There is no legal bar to appointing a Likud member to the post."