Despite Jurists' Opposition, Government to Privatize National Parks

Unless Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan decides to oppose the privatization bill, it is likely to win the support of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which is scheduled to discuss it Tuesday.

Government legal advisors are strongly opposed to legislation that would privatize Israel's national parks, but they have yet to convince Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan of their position, Haaretz has learned.

Unless Erdan raises opposition to the bill, it is likely to win the support of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which is scheduled to discuss it tomorrow. Sponsored by a group of lawmakers led by MK Israel Hasson (Kadima ), the bill proposes allowing non-profit corporations to run the national parks.

The bill's sponsors had argued that the Israel Nature and Parks Authority is finding it difficult to operate all the national parks on its own. But MK Hasson later said that the move was prompted by an initiative led by the Ir Amim organization and Peace Now movement to ban the settler organization Elad from managing the Jerusalem Walls National Park. "I don't see why, because of some political agenda, an organization that knows how to do it can't be allowed to continue running a national park," said Hasson. "We should note that the Caesaria national park is also run by the Caesarea Development Company."

Legal advisers in the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Nature and Parks Authority have rejected claims that the authority cannot manage the national parks on its own. They noted that the proposed legislation effectively hands over all administrative powers to private organizations. This, they warned, could constitute a dangerous precedent as it undermines the authority vested in a public organization responsible for parks and nature reserves that comprise a third of the entire country.

The legal advisers also said that the Jerusalem Walls National Park was a unique case in that it was a national park located in the heart of a politically sensitive area comprised of different demographic groups living in the midst of historic sites.

Erdan finds himself in a sensitive position, since his support for the bill could be interpreted as willingness to forfeit public control of valuable pubic lands and heritage sites, whereas his opposition to the bill is likely to spark an outcry from right-wing groups that support Elad.

His aides said that the minister said has yet to receive all the relevant material concerning the bill and that he has still not formulated his position on the matter.