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Here's a possible explanation for the fact that as prime minister, Ehud Barak agreed to let go of the entire Golan Heights in exchange for a peace deal with Syria, but insisted on retaining Israeli sovereignty over the northeastern shore of Lake Kinneret. Barak was apparently aware that the rest of the lake's banks were already in the hands of private developers, kibbutzim and various other entities. He may have been trying to keep at least one piece of shoreline in state hands.

The shores of Lake Kinneret have drawn a great deal of media interest in recent years in the wake of the activities of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI). The organization exposed the fact that there is no free access to most of the beaches, and in many places various entities have taken over the shore and put up fences and buildings. Government bodies have promised to change the situation, but that has not happened.

The situation is due to worsen after the approval of another construction plan, for a hotel and commercial center near the mouth of the Samach stream, at the place known as Diamond Beach.

The majority of Lake Kinneret's beaches are still fenced in, and visitors must pay to enter. Developers and kibbutzim continue to behave as if the beaches were their private property, and the National Planning Council's resolution calling for a walking path circling the lake and open to all has not been implemented.

In response to a petition to the High Court of Justice, filed by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense against charging entry fees for beaches, the state exhibited extraordinary activism. The state prosecutor informed the court that in a meeting with the deputy attorney general a decision was reached to form two teams to take on "the issue of the Kinneret's beaches." One team was to deal with trespassing and illegal construction on public lands, while a second, interministerial team was to focus on ways to insure that major swathes of the lake's beaches would be open to the public.

What a relief! One can already imagine the interministerial team recommending the establishment of an interministerial-team committee aimed at finding ways to create an interministerial, divisional and multiministerial team, and so forth.

For now, we can only lament what the environmental organizations call "the shell that has already been fired," the tourism project on Diamond Beach that cannot be canceled because it has already been approved and a franchisee chosen. One cannot expect the Israel Lands Administration to rethink its position and to realize that something that was approved 15 years ago may no longer be appropriate, and that the franchisee could be compensated - anything, as long as the bay of the Samach stream is saved.

And where are the scientists who research the Kinneret, so dear to their hearts? They only remembered last month, very late for the beaches, to draft an impressive petition against the Diamond Beach project in particular and construction around the Kinneret in general.

Today, 80 percent of Lake Kinneret's beaches have been impacted by man in some way, including construction and agriculture, the scientists pointed out. Half of the remainder is defined as a nature reserve (the shoreline Barak sought to preserve). The other half that is still in its natural state represents a range of habitats and shore vegetation. The Samach stream beach is the longest and broadest of these, and thus also the most significant ecologically and aesthetically of the remaining open shoreline.

"In effect, most of the beaches have already been handed over to private developers," the scientists write in reference to the only lake in Israel. "Experience teaches that when a developer is awarded a franchise over a given section of shore, he acts to produce the maximum economic benefit from it, even at the expense of damaging the nature and beauty in the space meant for the general public. This creeping development process is already taking place on the majority of the Kinneret's beaches, and now risks being expanded to the remainder. The cumulative result will be the complete disappearance of the variety of landscapes and natural vegetation that are unique to the Kinneret in favor of built-up beaches."