Another Minister Fails to Protect Israel's Environment

Like his predecessors, Amir Peretz, who resigned yesterday, could not stand up to more powerful ministries and did not galvanize the public around a critical issue.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
Amir Peretz announces his resignation from the Netanyahu government and Environmental Protection Ministry, Nov. 9, 2014.
Amir Peretz announces his resignation from the Netanyahu government and Environmental Protection Ministry, Nov. 9, 2014.Credit: Nir Keidar
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

Ten different ministers for environmental protection in two decades is a gloomy record, indicating that ministers serve for two years on average. Amir Peretz, who resigned yesterday, completes this list. It was not just the brevity of his term that made it largely uneventful. A minister with a social consciousness should have been able to mount the barricades and sear importance of this issue into the consciousness of the public.

Peretz undoubtedly received a ministry whose goals accord with his world view. He didn’t need to be convinced of the importance of standing up for the interests of the public at large, as opposed to the interests of the capitalist and ruling forces, which often sacrifice the quality of life for the sake of extra profits.

Peretz’s term was characterized mainly by a lack of vision and a work plan which could foster public enthusiasm and enlist environmentalists. It’s no coincidence that he often used the image of a “social and environmental Iron Dome,” as the mission he took upon himself, thus revealing his yearning for more desirable security and diplomacy-related challenges.

A champion of the weak

On a daily basis Peretz gave the professionals in his ministry free rein, assiduously visiting many locations while trying to effectively solve problems he encountered. He also exhibited sensitivity to weaker sectors of the population, such as the unrecognized Bedouin communities in the south, transferring some of his ministry’s funds to them.

Pollution at a beach in Netanya, Oct. 27, 2014.Credit: Galia Pasternak

However, on many other fronts he appeared only to react, not to lead. This was the case in the protection of open areas, in which the ministry had some success, but Peretz was only a weaker minor player when faced with the powerful interior and housing ministries. Like his predecessors — and due to political weakness not linked to him personally — he found it difficult to enable his ministry to wield influence in key issues such as transportation-linked pollution and the development of clean energy sources; they remained under the control of other ministries. In the important area of hazardous construction waste disposal, his office was incapable of combatting the pollution and the extensive criminal activity associated with it.

On several key topics, Peretz continued with initiatives launched by his predecessor Gilad Erdan. These included the re-location of ammonia storage tanks from the Haifa Bay area, restoration of the polluted Kishon stream and overseeing a transition to an economy based on environmental considerations and protection of wildlife. In contrast, some fatigue was felt in the ministry’s handling of recycling, which was the most significant campaign it had led in earlier years. This may not be Peretz’s fault since the campaign was well underway when he arrived, but an advantage of environmental protection is that a capable and charismatic leader such as Peretz knows how to galvanize the public around this important cause.

The nylon bag initiative

One of the initiatives that will be directly linked to his term is the bill he launched to eliminate nylon bags, which the Knesset is slated to approve soon. This is an important bill, but of lesser impact than other required steps. The marketing and public relations campaign around this issue gave the impression that the minister had difficulty in promoting other issues, but hoped that the nylon bags issue would place him at the forefront of action on the environmental front.

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