Environmental issues are barely registering in the current election campaign, even though they raise important existential concerns such as energy and water supply, building plans for the coming years, public health and distribution of natural resources. This week several parties started rolling out their environmental platforms and perhaps this will help spark public and political discussion.
Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah is expected on Thursday to present its social-environmental manifesto, prepared by Prof. Alon Tal, number 13 on the party's slate, and represents the Green Movement. Tal's presence is likely to prompt the new party to focus a little on environmental affairs, even if in the past Livni herself rarely showed any interest in them.
The large parties have not until now spoken about environmental issues. It is possible that the Likud is relying on the reputation of Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan as a leading political figure in this area. Erdan used his term as minister to promote himself and improve his position ahead of his party's primaries, and referred to himself in campaign ads as "the minister of Likud protection."
The Greens party, which has failed to win a seat in every Knesset election it ran in, has publicized a long and detailed environmental platform on its website. Among other things, the party proposes expanding coastal no-construction zones and setting a minimum for green space in urban areas (30 percent of a city's area).
Two parties running in the election with extensive experience in campaigning for the environment are Meretz and Hadash, whose Knesset members Nitzan Horowitz and Dov Khenin headed the parliament's social-environmental lobby. Both have formulated an environmental platform that corresponds to the spirit and content of the social protest. It reflects a similar worldview that sees a close connection between social and environmental justice.
"A lack of environmental justice is a result of economic interests seeking to increase the profits of the rich at the expense of our health and quality of life," notes Hadash's platform. "Consequently, air pollution worsened and Israel's waterways turned into channels where waste flows. Public transportation was neglected in favor of building roads and infrastructure that benefit those who can afford their own car and the gas companies that profit from this situation."
The two parties clearly favor Israeli urbanity based on densely populated cities, public transportation and abandoning plans for suburban construction and new communities. Meretz stresses that public transportation networks need to be developed, and a crucial element of their success is their operation on the Sabbath. The two parties want to promote plans to expand public housing and halt the planning and building reforms the government tried to advance, which they believe pose a grave danger as open areas will be handed to real estate developers.
Another environmental issue that recently rose to the fore is the use of Israel's natural resources, primarily potash from the Dead Sea and natural gas from the Mediterranean Sea. This is not just a matter of more equitable distribution of the profits between private entrepreneurs and the public, but also increased supervision of the extraction of natural resources to limit the environmental damage.
Hadash is adhering to its socialist origins and asking to nationalize the gas, mineral and oil reserves. Meretz does not rule out private ownership of natural resources, but argues that the profits should be redistributed and mostly transferred to the public's benefit. The two parties are seeking to promote legislation that would limit the options for exploiting minerals from the Dead Sea.
Meretz and Hadash's position on energy is to reduce the use of pollution-causing fossil fuels and expand the use of renewable energy. Meretz is proposing to designate 2030 as the year by which Israel will produce one fifth of its energy from renewable sources.
Two main issues that will have a decisive impact on the future of Israeli society, beyond the diplomatic issues, are population growth and consumption. It is difficult to address these issues, and in the political parties' election campaign platforms and they receive little mention.
The matter of Israel's rapid population growth and its environmental impact is not mentioned at all in the two parties' platforms. Apparently they accept this growth as a given that cannot be influenced, beyond more careful scrutiny of planning and building.
Meretz is attempting to deal with consumption through a series of steps such as reducing the use of packaging and banning plastic bags. Another step is to convey information to the consumer on the environmental impact of every product he consumes, so that he will be able to decide for himself what to buy and what not to buy.
Even though these are two relatively small parties, the work of their representatives in the last Knesset was highly effective and led to progress in several important environmental initiatives. One of the reasons for this was their broad cooperation with parties in the coalition.
Meretz and Hadash Knesset members take their environmental platforms seriously, and shape it while maintaining ongoing ties with environmental organizations. Their ability to implement the platform will be a measure of Israeli society's overall success in confronting environmental challenges.