Environmentalists Fight to Foil Construction on Israeli Beaches

New plan lifts protection from open spaces in cities including Herzliya, Netanya, Rishon Letzion and Ashdod, as well as rural areas.

A stretch of beach in central Israel.
Moti Milrod

Environmental groups have appealed to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to shelve part of a new master plan being promoted by ministry planning officials that would allow extensive construction on previously protected beaches.

A subcommittee of the National Planning and Building Council is to meet tomorrow to discuss Master Plan 1, which aims to shorten the planning period of other master plans and unify them into one framework.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Union for Environmental Defense say that according to a decision of the National Planning and Building Council three years ago, Master Plan 1 was not to have included major changes in existing master plans. However, they say the plan’s section on beaches does exactly that, and therefore it must be stopped.

The section on beaches in Master Plan 1 replaces the existing master plan on beaches that prohibited construction on a 100-meter strip from the water line. The existing plan also defines extensive areas beyond that strip as protected public land or agricultural land.

While the 100-meter construction ban still pertains in the new plan, much of the protection for open spaces beyond this strip has been lifted. “This is about beaches in cities like Herzliya, Netanya, Rishon Letzion and Ashdod,” where construction will now be allowed in formerly protected zones, Moshe Perlmutter, of the SPNI, said. Perlmutter added that protection has also been lifted in some rural areas along the coastline.

According to the new master plan, there will be protected areas beyond the 100-meter strip protected areas to be known as “beach complexes,” which will include a total of about 14,000 dunams (3,500 acres) where development will be permitted if the committee determines that there is no other place to construct. The new plan will also permit construction of infrastructure projects anywhere on the beaches, which had previously been prohibited.

“Your Planning Administration is for all intents and purposes proposing to do away with the existing master plan and replace it with a different arrangement, much weaker in terms of protection of the beach and better for developers,” the organizations said in their letter to Kahlon. “This is without the National Planning and Building Council having authorized it to do so. If the Planning Administration thinks protection of the beaches should be weakened, it should have presented this to the national council,” the letter also said.

The organizations also urged Kahlon to stop the involvement of the Planning Administration head, Binat Schwartz, in the beach section of Master Plan 1, citing a conflict of interest. In some of the areas in question are communities where Binat’s life partner, Dudi Russo, has real estate dealings.

Schwartz had already said she would recuse herself from direct involvement in planning the areas beyond the beach, but the organizations say this is not enough and the various zones of the beach cannot be separated.

The Finance Ministry did not respond to a request for a comment with regard to the danger of construction in formerly protected areas. As for Schwartz’s involvement, last week the Finance Ministry told The Marker that Schwartz was fulfilling the arrangement required of her considering the conflict of interests.