Beach Near Tel Aviv Set to Be Site of National Park, Not Vacation Resort

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A surfer on Palmachim Beach, south of Tel Aviv. Credit: Ilan Assayag

Zoning officials appear set to approve plans for a national park on Palmachim Beach, but four years after rejecting a proposal for a vacation resort on the same site, the local planning board said Monday that additional steps are still needed before work on the park can begin.

Environmental groups applauded the decision by the Central District Planning and Building Committee to allow park approval proceedings to continue.

“I congratulate the district committee on its decision,” said Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, who worked to overturn the vacation village plan in his previous position as environment minister. “The plan for a national park at Palmachim was put forth after a tough and protracted struggle that I led as environmental protection minister. I’m glad to see that this struggle succeeded, and this unique strip of beach at Palmachim will remain open for the enjoyment of all the public.”

The decision is a historic move to protect Israel’s coastline, an Environmental Protection Ministry official said Monday. Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense representatives said they see the committee’s decision as an important achievement that gave top priority to the public’s interest by protecting the beaches.

The plan to turn the beach south of Tel Aviv into a nature reserve must be submitted to the National Planning and Building Council for approval, since it requires a change in the national master plan for tourism, which stipulates that part of the area will be zoned for hotel projects such as vacation villages, the local planning board decided Monday.

It also said that before the national park could secure final approval, the company that had planned to build the vacation village must receive financial compensation. The company had been awarded an Israel Land Authority tender for developing Palmachim Beach.

As environment minister, Erdan facilitated the arrangement for compensating the company.

In 2010 the central district planning board, facing objections from environmental groups, rejected plans to build a holiday resort on the beach. A month later, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority submitted plans to turn part of the beach into a nature reserve, with the adjacent sand dunes becoming a national park containing the ruins of the ancient city of Yavneh-Yam.

The discussion of coastline development could go far beyond Palmachim.

There are plans to build 14 vacation villages that would include thousands of rooms along the Mediterranean, according to a position paper published by the Environmental Protection Ministry.

The ministry report states that these plans could cause large-scale damage to Israel’s beaches and calls for most of these plans to be spiked. It says vacation villages should be built only on already developed land in a bid to preserve as much of the country’s open beaches as possible.

“We decided that it was not sufficient to talk about each program on an individual basis and that we had to write about coastline preservation in general,” said Galit Cohen, who heads the ministry’s planning and sustainability department.

“We would not only say where not to build, but also where building could take place,” she said, since “we realize that vacation sites are necessary.”

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