Betzet beach - Yaron Kaminsky - October 2011
Israelis at Betzet beach on the northern coast. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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The Israel Lands Administration yesterday said it was acting to revoke the plan for an amusement park complex near Betzet beach, on the northern coast, in a coup for environmental organizations and the Environmental Protection Ministry, which have been campaigning against construction on beaches. "This is a happy day because the prolonged campaign I led is ending with a victory," Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said yesterday.

"Today we have proved that saving Palmahim beach was not an isolated case but a conceptual revolution Israeli officials are undergoing. I hope the ILA chief will rectify other environmentally harmful mistakes made by the administration, such as marketing the Samar dunes in the Arava for mining and excessive development of the Kinneret beaches," he said.

Erdan said he would submit a cabinet resolution calling on planning committees to reexamine the plan for Betzet beach and rule that no amusement park will be built there now or in the future.

However, revoking the plan would be possible only if the land developers who won the construction tender agree to the compensation proposed by the administration.

Land developers Macpell Industries and Zioni Herzl won the tender to set up an amusement park, an artificial lake and a commercial center on 200 dunams on Betzet beach four years ago.

Environmental organizations raised an outcry, saying the project would cause grave damage to the landscape, natural beach and the public access to it, although the park was not planned to be built right on the shoreline. The region's residents set up an encampment on the beach to protest the project.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan spearheaded a compromise with the ILA and the housing minister to cancel the project.

The compromise consists of having the planning authorities reexamine the plan, while compensating the developers for money they had invested in contending for the tender and promoting the project.

On Tuesday the ILA's legal adviser Yaakov Quint met the developers' representatives at the instruction of the ILA's new chief, Bentzi Lieberman, to discuss ways of rolling back the project.

They decided the ILA would compensate the developers for the tract of land and the right to build a recreation complex on it.

If the developers agree to the sum, which will be determined by a state assessor, the project will be revoked.

An ILA spokesman said yesterday the administration had decided to suspend the project due to the beach's unique landscape. The decision followed the cabinet's move some six months ago to scrap a plan to build an amusement park on Palmahim beach and a more recent ILA statement indicating it would repeal a plan for an amusement park adjacent to Nitzanim beach.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel commended Lieberman for putting the public interest above that of the developers.

"Let's hope the ILA's decision signals a policy change to preserve beaches and open areas," said Amit Bracha, director of the Adam Teva v'Din environmental group.