The Dead Sea - Michal Fattal - 04092011
The Dead Sea. Photo by Michal Fattal
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An opinion issued Sunday by the Attorney General's Office with regard to Dead Sea Works may prove to be an important milestone in setting principles for the proper and just division of natural resources that belong to the public as a whole.

The document deals mainly with the question of who should pay for the action needed to prevent the hotels at the southern tip of the Dead Sea from being flooded by the rising water levels caused by DSW's evaporation pools. It states that the requisite action, harvesting the salt, should be financed largely by DSW, as it is the party that created the danger.

But the opinion also says a special fee should be levied on DSW, so that the public can enjoy a greater share of the enormous profits the company derives from the minerals found in the Dead Sea.

This opinion helps to establish principles that are important not only from an economic standpoint, but no less so from a moral and social standpoint too. The first is the principle that a private entity that derives profit from a public asset must pay for fixing any pollution or danger it creates or, alternatively, must pay to prevent it. It thereby prevents responsibility for dealing with such environmental problems from being rolled over onto the public's shoulders. This also makes economic sense, as it creates an incentive for capitalists to try to prevent pollution or environmental hazards in advance.

The second principle is distributive justice, which the opinion mentions explicitly. This is a principle laid down by the High Court of Justice about a decade ago, in a case dealing with the use of agricultural lands for construction. The court ruled then that one particular segment of the population cannot be the sole beneficiary of any profits derived from the use of these lands. More recently, the application of this principle has been expanded to private entrepreneurs who derive profits from other natural resources, such as oil and gas - and now, in the case of DSW, potash as well.

This is not a negation of the principle that private entrepreneurs are entitled to make a profit, but rather a more balanced division of the profits, which enables the public, via the state, to also benefit from the exploitation of natural resources. It must therefore be hoped that the government and DSW reach an agreement that will embody a fair application of these principles.