After a five-year struggle by environmentalists and local residents, a national park will be established on the Palmahim shoreline in central Israel, overriding a previous plan to build a resort village there.
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The Central District Planning Committee approved the plan after it received a commitment from the government that compensation would be paid, if necessary, to the developers who had won a tender to develop the resort.
Over the past several weeks, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and other environmental activists had been pressuring the treasury and Environmental Protection Ministry to commit to indemnify the developers, since the committee would not approve the park plan otherwise. Two weeks ago, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay said they would issue a letter of indemnity to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which is sponsoring the park plan.
The developers will be indemnified in the event that they sue the government and a court awards them compensation, which is likely given that the developers won a legal tender to build the resort and had invested considerable sums in planning it. The two ministries, the Israel Land Authority and the ILA’s fund for preserving open spaces will be responsible for the payout.
The planning committee’s written decision has not yet been released, but the Finance Ministry (which now runs the Planning Administration) announced Sunday that the national park had been approved, based on the need to preserve the coastal areas and make them accessible to the public.
Declaring the area a national park will allow its natural landscapes and archaeological sites to be preserved.
The committee recognized the exceptional nature of the decision to rezone an area that previously had been set aside for tourism facilities. However, it was convinced there was justification for doing so, because of the importance of the Palmahim beach and the host of other areas along the coast where tourist attractions can be built.
“The indemnity decision is unprecedented,” said INPA chairman Shaul Goldstein. “It’s clear the developers will try to prevent the opening of a national park, but I hope the courts, in the event they are called upon, will give priority to developing the beach and making it accessible.”
Kahlon released a statement saying the beaches “belong to the public, and we will make sure they stay that way.”