Minister: Options for Blocking Controversial Hotel in Israeli Desert Nearly Exhausted

A hotel planned to be built in Timna Park is strongly backed by the tourism ministry but bitterly opposed by environmentalists.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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The Sasgon Valley in the Arava, where a hotel is slated to be built.
The Sasgon Valley in the Arava, where a hotel is slated to be built.Credit: Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

All options for stopping a plan to build a hotel in Timna Park, in the southern Arava desert, have been exhausted, except for legal steps, Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin said Wednesday.

The hotel, to be built in Sasgon Valley, is strongly backed by the Tourism Ministry but bitterly opposed by environmentalists, as potentially harmful to one of the country’s most beautiful stretches of desert, north of Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat. It was approved by the Southern District’s planning and building committee last week.

Elkin said the only way to try to stop the plan would be by appealing to the National Planning and Building Council or going to court.

“The ministry tried in every way possible to change the plan’s location,” he said, noting that even before he took office, efforts were made to persuade the entrepreneur to relocate the hotel in exchange for compensation from the Jewish National Fund.

That effort failed in part due to legal problems with using JNF’s money for this purpose, Elkin said.

The ministry also tried to postpone the planning council’s vote on the plan so that alternative locations for the hotel could be sought, Elkin continued. But that effort ran into opposition from the Tourism Ministry and the Eilot Regional Council, where Sasgon is located, since both bodies support the plan.

Finally, at last week’s planning committee meeting, Elkin’s ministry proposed an alternative location. But the committee said this proposal was impractical, because the site in question was zoned for landscape preservation.

The environmental organization Adam Teva V’Din, however, said the area’s zoning plan was recently changed, which permits it to be used as a hotel site.

Adam Teva V’Din said that if an appeal to the National Planning and Building Council fails, it will petition a court against the plan.

“In that case, we expect the Environmental Protection Ministry to submit its own opinion against the plan’s approval to the court, even if this contradicts the state’s position,” executive director Amit Bracha said.

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