Cabinet: Committee Should Review Controversial Plan to Build Resort on Unspoiled Palmahim Beach

New coast protection law imposes strict limitations on construction within 300 meters of the seashore.

A planning committee should review its decision to uphold a widely criticized plan for a resort on Palmahim beach near Rishon Letzion, the cabinet urged yesterday.

The cabinet decided the Central District Planning and Building Committee needs to review its decision to uphold the plan, and the phrasing of the resolution strongly implies the committee should consider reversing the decision altogether.

Palmachim beach near Rishon Letzion

"Tens of thousands of ordinary citizens, the state comptroller, the environmental protection minister, Knesset members and environmental organizations all stood with us and all helped us to return the beach to its true owner: the public," said the public committee to save Palmahim. "After all the struggles, it's good to know such decisions are being made."

The Coastal Environment Protection Law, which came into force only after the construction plan was confirmed, imposes strict limitations on construction within 300 meters of the water line. The resort is set to occupy nearly two acres of land and be within 100 meters of the water.

The original plan envisions the construction of a 350-room resort by the Avalon and Maoz Daniel companies, which won a tender from the Israel Lands Administration and secured most of the necessary permissions to begin works.

But local residents launched a campaign against the plan two years ago, soon prompting the state comptroller to look into the confirmation process.

The resolution, co-authored by the justice and tourism ministries and endorsed by the cabinet, calls on the planning committee to review the plan for the resort.

The cabinet specifically instructed the committee to take into account the Coastal Environment Preservation Law and the state comptroller's report on the resort, which recommended canceling the project.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to his ministers to ensure a broad consensus on the matter.

"As I made clear last week, I see great importance in preserving the beaches as open public grounds for wide public use and recreation," the prime minister told the cabinet. "It's a unique natural resource."

In response to a proposal by Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, the cabinet decided that the planning committee would be able to discuss the possibility of completely changing the designation for the land, from tourism to public use. The Tourism Ministry opposed the move, arguing that a tourism project must be allowed to be planned in the area, and warning of a precedent that would shackle coastal tourism development in other beaches.

The cabinet resolution also said the ministries would be able to draft alternatives to the resort proposal. Erdan said yesterday he will instruct the Israel Nature and Parks Authority to submit to the committee an alternative plan, in which part of the contested ground will be turned into a national park and the rest will remain an open public ground.

Palmahim is one of the most pristine beaches in the center of the country, where many beaches have been taken over by the defense establishment or used for infrastructure. Until 2000, the general policy was to allow the construction of coastal resorts, and such projects were confirmed for Palmahim, Betzet and an area near the Kinneret. No new coastal resort plans were confirmed since the Coastal Environment Preservation Law went into effect.

The project contractors said in a statement: "We believe the state is wrong if it decided to cancel the resort, because the project is appropriate and serves the best of public interest, as the state itself confirmed when it initiated and authorized the plan. This is a sad day for the wider public, because a decision had been made based on wrong information, led by narrow-minded interests who used inappropriate ways. The loss here is of a wonderful touristic project by the best planners in Israel and abroad, the purpose of which was to provide enjoyment to all and fortify the Israeli economy."

"We wish the state every success in exercising its will in similar cases in the future, a task which seems impossible in this point in time," the statement said.

The Israel Union for Environmental Defense said the resolution showed the government understood no price could be put on one of the most rare coastal strips in Israel. "There is no doubt that in light of this resolution, the district committee must reject any plan for construction on that beach," said the environmental group.