A few months ago, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan staged a concerted, successful campaign which resulted in the Palmahim beach area’s designation as a national park, thereby saving it from being put under the partial control of a private firm whose aim was to establish a resort facility at the site. Now Erdan’s challenge is the reverse: He has to stop legislation that would put national parks under the management of privately owned associations.
In recent months a group of Knesset members, mostly from the political right, have been promoting an amendment to the national parks law which would allow the environmental protection minister to relay jurisdiction for a park to a non-profit association. Under the terms of the proposed amendment, these are associations whose goals include “perpetuation of values that have historical, archaeological, architectural or natural importance.”
The argument for this amendment is that the Israel Nature and Parks Authority finds it difficult to efficiently manage all the national parks on its own. But one of the amendment’s main backers, MK Israel Hasson (Kadima), has admitted that one of the main factors motivating the legislation is a High Court petition submitted by the Ir Amim non-profit organization protesting the transfer of management authority for the Jerusalem Walls national park to the Elad non-profit group. Elad is a right-wing organization devoted to expanding Jewish control over the City of David.
The legal sanction that is likely to be awarded to Elad’s activity is innately problematic, in view of the tense set of relations between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem. Yet legislation of this amendment would pave the way for sweeping privatization of more national parks; the parks would eventually be put under the management of an array of non-profits and other groups.
Legal advisers in the environmental protection ministry and the Nature and Parks Authority well understood the implications of this proposed amendment. A brief drafted by the ministry’s legal team argues that the amendment would essentially privatize national parks.
The brief emphasizes that the ministry lacks the means to monitor the management of parks by private bodies.
Of course, right-wing Knesset members don’t care about this at all. They are accustomed to transferring, one way or another, land and other assets to elements that claim to strengthen the people’s hold on the country, a mission they claim the state is not fulfilling with sufficient efficiency. In this spirit, they supported the transfer of large swathes in the Negev to individual farm owners, who claim that their purpose is to stop non-Jews from grabbing the lands.
With regard to the Nature and Parks Authority, whose heads have been worried about the proposed amendment, it can be stated that it set the stage for this situation. The authority transferred management responsibility for the City of David to Elad, and praises the way in which Elad runs the area. It’s hard to be confident about the authority’s activities, since it itself proffered responsibility for such a sensitive asset to an NPO that receives funding from private donors.
From the Israeli public’s vantage point, the privatization of national parks can be seen as another step in the continuing erosion of efficient management of public assets, a process that started with the privatization of social services and government companies, and is now penetrating to the core of our national heritage.
Gilad Erdan is supposed to be the person who deploys all his political leverage to prevent the privatization of national parks. Yet his position on this matter remains unclear; it can be assumed that he is finding it hard to oppose a move designed to help an NPO promote Jewish control over the City of David. It can only be hoped that he will grasp the wide-ranging implications of such legislation, and move to thwart it.
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