Gov't Bill Would Let Private Firms Build in Nature Reserves

For the first time since authorities began regulating the preservation of Israel's nature reserves, the government is touting a law that would allow private companies to oversee building projects within forests and nature reserves.

Environmental groups are concerned that if the law is passed as expected, corporations could allow highways paved or buildings constructed within a nature reserve even as they are charged with supervising that construction, ultimately causing environmental damage.

"Handing over this important function to authorized entities as if they were supervisory bodies is akin to privatizing nature, the landscape and tradition," the parks authority wrote in a complaint it recently submitted to the Interior Ministry. "This idea must be dismissed out of hand."

The issue is part of the legislative deliberations over a planning and building law that is expected to gain final Knesset approval within the coming weeks. If the law is passed, private entities would be authorized to grant licenses and permits for construction activity, powers that until now have been reserved for the parks authority and the Jewish National Fund.

"The considerations that motivate a private entity are different from those that guide a public, state body," the parks authority wrote. "The considerations of a public body are based on professional know-how and expertise, as demonstrated by the Nature and Parks Authority. Handing over these powers to private entities is liable to result in widespread environmental damage."

"This must be avoided," the parks authority wrote.

Yesterday was the last day to submit reservations and comments on the matter to the Interior Ministry. A number of environmental non-governmental organizations expressed concern that if public environment-minded oversight agencies were not involved in the planning process, the law would pave the way for building projects similar to the Holyland apartment complex in Jerusalem.

The Prime Minister's Office said, however, that the law would actually strengthen environmental protection.

"Representatives of the environmental protection agencies are strengthened by the planning and building reform," it said in a statement. "They will have a permanent place on both the local planning committees as well as the national planning institutions."