New Coastline Master Plan Cancels Protected Status of Israeli Beaches

'Government expropriated beach areas from public for benefit of property developers and highest bidders,' according to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

A stretch of beach in central Israel.
Moti Milrod

The National Planning and Building Commission on Tuesday approved a new master plan for the country’s coastline that cancels the protected status of thousands of dunams of beaches. Environmental groups say the decision will cause serious damage to the shoreline.

The commission’s move is part of a process of approving National Master Plan No. 1 which involves replacing existing master plans with new versions.

The new plan for the coast divides the area into the beaches along the waterline and a strip east of them called “adjacent to the beach.” Some 14,000 dunams (3,500 acres) of the adjacent areas are no longer marked as protected, which means they could be rezoned for construction. This includes open urban areas totaling 4,000 dunams in cities like Herzliya, Tel Aviv, Acre, Hadera and Ashdod that are slated to be developed as parks.

The new plan also for the first time allows for infrastructure projects all along the shoreline.

In a letter that she distributed to members of the committee before the debate, the head of the Planning Administration, Binat Schwartz, wrote that the chapter on the shoreline “provides complete protection to the beaches and the area adjacent to the beaches, while balancing a wide range of development needs for the public’s benefit. It preserves natural and scenic beaches alongside lively and sustainable coastal cities.”

According to Schwartz, some 70,000 dunams of adjacent areas are protected.

“We took into account the various public needs, which is why we permitted built-up residential areas along the coast to resume and complete construction, without shifting it toward the coast,” she wrote. “We allowed only the transfer of vital infrastructure that is connected to the sea, like natural gas infrastructure, marinas and ports.”

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel said, “Unfortunately, the national commission made a decision today that drastically reduces the protections now in place for the coastal areas. The next time bulldozers arrive along the shore to start development work for a hotel or residential project, or infrastructure facilities, it’s important for the public to remember that this government, first and foremost Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who is responsible for the planning apparatus, expropriated the beach areas from the public for the benefit of property developers and the highest bidders.”

Attorney Amit Bracha, the director of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva V’Din), said, “We will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to fight to preserve the protection for the beaches and even improve it in the future. The decision reached today contravenes the broad public interest and is liable to cause serious damage to the country’s most important natural treasures and public assets.”

The Environmental Protection Ministry supported the new plan for the coast. According to the ministry, “Significant improvements were inserted into the plan. Inter alia, the threats to the open beaches were removed and additional open space was added adjacent to the beaches.”