Greens Fear Israel's Palmahim Beach Resort Will Go Ahead Despite State Ban

Zafrir Rinat
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Zafrir Rinat

Environmentalists fear the cancellation of a plan to build a resort on Palmahim Beach may be overturned because more than two years later the planning authorities have yet to approve the alternative plan for a national park at the site.

On Sunday, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel asked Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan to work vigorously to make sure the cabinet decision to reject construction of the resort village and turn the area into a national park instead, is actually implemented.

A crucial meeting on the issue is scheduled to take place tomorrow at the Justice Ministry, which is to be attended by officials of the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Israel Lands Administration.

The cabinet decision two years ago was at Erdan's initiative, and followed a lengthy public campaign against the resort by green groups that said the construction would cause irreparable damage to one of the most important beaches in the central region. The campaign was launched, however, only after the developers, Avalon and Maoz David, had won a state-issued tender to build the resort and had already paid the government for the rights.

The cabinet sent the plan back to the Tel Aviv District Planning Committee, which held a special session and agreed that a new plan should be prepared for a national park at the site. It also determined that a new site should be found on which the resort could be built, so that the state could meet its obligations to the developers.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority drew up a plan to turn the area into a nature reserve - a plan that has yet to be approved by the district planning committee. But the authority was not able to find an alternate site for the resort in the Palmahim region, because so much of the land in the area is being used by the defense establishment.

This means the state could be obligated to pay the developers millions of shekels in compensation for the investment they've already made in the project.

Two months ago the district planning committee met once again to debate the parks authority's plan for the nature reserve, and concluded the meeting by saying it would have to reevaluate the original decision to cancel the construction of the resort. This decision is causing environmentalists concern that what they had considered one of their greatest achievements might now go down the drain.

In their letter to Erdan, the green groups said the first order of business is to seek the immediate approval of the parks authority's plan to turn the area in question into a national park, while also seeking a way to compensate the developers. The environmentalists noted that a similar process had been successfully concluded in the face of plans to build resorts in the Betzet Beach area of the Galilee.

"There's more than just the fate of Palmahim Beach at stake," they wrote. "The success of the struggle for this shore instilled in many people the belief that public activism and determination can overturn decisions that undermine the public interest. Canceling what was achieved on the Palmahim Beach is likely to discourage many people who invest time and effort on behalf of the environment."

The meeting at the Justice Ministry tomorrow will apparently deal with ways of compensating the developers.

The Environmental Protection Ministry said: "We are doing all we can to make sure that the Nature and Parks Authority plan is implemented and the beach can be saved."

The sun going down on Palmahim Beach. No alternative site has been found for a multi-million-shekel resort project that was ditched two years ago.Credit: Ilan Assayag