New Master Plan Retains Ban on Construction Along Israel's Coast

Environmentalist had feared the state would allow construction within 100 meters of the shore

A stretch of beach in central Israel.
Moti Milrod

For years, development has been encroaching on Israel’s coastline. Now the government is moving to pass a national master plan that will enshrine the right of the people of Israel to go to the beach unimpeded by bulldozers and luxury housing. Fittingly, it is called National Master Plan 1.

For 35 years, development along the coast has been governed by National Master Plan 13, which prohibited construction within 100 meters of the water. This principle has been known to be breached by builders with the help of complaisant local zoning committees that gave them exemptions, but it did give some protection to the beaches and the people who want to use them.

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In fact, the new National Master Plan will replace a number of topic-based master plans. Its chapter on the beaches was approved by a subcommittee of the National Planning and Building Council this month. It still needs to be submitted to the council and then to the cabinet.

Importantly, the new chapter states that the beaches are in the public domain and requires the government to protect their ecology as well as their archaeological heritage. The plan also calls on the government to encourage those uses and activities permissible under the plan itself, “as a space for health, sports and leisure.”

Environmental organizations had feared the new plan would weaken the protections for coastal areas, but compromises were reached and a representative of the groups supported the plan in committee. 

The new plan has far-reaching practical implications. It ratifies the ban on building within 100 meters of the water, with the exception of beach facilities and infrastructure such as sports facilities, lifeguard stations, public restrooms and boardwalks.

Outside the cities, authorities may build access paths along the beaches. Those beaches designated for swimming (a euphemism for “have lifeguard services”) may also have kiosks and toilets. Coastal towns may not expand toward the water, but what building they may carry out has to prioritize hotels and structures for leisure.

The area where construction is banned may be used for agriculture, but its main purpose is to preserve nature. Some of these areas will become nature reserves and national parks; some already are.

Certain coastal areas — including some of the most beautiful — are controlled by the defense establishment, and have become quite the focus of argument. Environmental groups insist these lands receive protection as well, worrying that when they are evacuated by security forces one day, the state will hasten to allow construction there. 

>> Read more: Protect Israel's Coastline and Stop Planned Construction on Israeli Beaches | Editorial

Ronit Mazar, senior manager of national planning at the Finance Ministry, says that any construction in these areas, around 12,000 dunams (3,000 acres) in all, will also be limited to beach and leisure uses, but the environmentalists were not appeased. 

One such area is the military training zone between Rishon Letzion and Palmachim, south of Tel Aviv, a gorgeous spot of beach. Another is the beach within land owned by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, south of Acre.

The subcommittee approved the plan unanimously. The national planning administration demonstrated flexibility regarding some of the arguments raised by environmentalists.

Even if the new National Master Plan is passed, it will not affect development  plans that have already been approved. Some Knesset members have been trying to push through an amendment to the planning and construction law in order to reopen these approved plans, with no success so far.