Bottom Shekel / If We Build It, They Will Come

Why the greens are foolish for arguing against a hotel in Timna.

It's a disaster. This week the Southern District Planning and Building Committee approved the construction of a hotel in the Sasgon Valley in the Arava. Shock! Horror! How will we withstand this flood of hotel construction? You'd think investors were flocking from all over the world to destroy the Arava and the Negev.

No major hotel has opened in Israel for six years (a major hotel has more than 400 rooms). This is an ecological hotel that will blend into the surroundings and take up a tiny percentage of the large Negev. The developer is Yoav Igra, known for his environmental awareness. And the hotel will provide 600 jobs in a place where jobs are needed. But what do the greens care about all that?

Dizengoff Square

The greens draw clear distinctions between the good guys and the bad guys. The goodies oppose any development, any initiative, any new factory and any new highway. As far as they're concerned, a fruit-fly matters more than a human.

The baddies are clearly delineated too: the developers, the contractors, the builders of factories who want to develop, boost economic growth and improve living standards.

By this view of the world, Igra is a baddie, but Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (who opposes the Timna hotel) is a good guy.

It bears saying that the district committee reduced the footprint of the hotel area by a third to minimize damage to the landscape. It even decided that the building would have only two stories. But it also recommended that the hotel be built, to let the public enjoy the currently inaccessible area.

And that's the whole story, because when environmental organizations claim that building a hotel in the Sasgon Valley will harm the landscape, they don't say who has seen that landscape.

Few people have: only rich people who own off-road vehicles or can pay a private tour guide to take them there.

The fact is, 99.9% of Israelis, including this writer, have never been to the Sasgon Valley. But if a road and hotel are built, lots of people will be able to enjoy the valley. They will also be able to visit the nearby natural treasure - Timna Park. The hotel will bring us closer to the landscape, beauty, nature and the environment.

The debate over the hotel is reminiscent of the debate over Highway 6, the Trans-Israel Highway. Those same green organizations opposed it and submitted endless objections to the committees and courts. They delayed its construction by five to six years.

Imagine Israel today without Highway 6, which brought the Negev and the Galilee closer to the center of the country, contributing more to society than all the green and social welfare organizations combined.

Most annoying is Erdan, who knows the south desperately needs jobs. He knows that this is an ecological hotel - the only one in Israel - that would be a center for desert tours and extreme sports. He knows that this project received its permits and the blessing of the Nature and Parks Authority years ago.

Erdan talks about an alternative location for the hotel; he says he will appeal to the National Planning and Building Committee - but everyone knows that only in this valley, the Sasgon Valley, is there a permit for building a hotel, and that changing a master plan in Israel is a matter of another 50 years.

But Erdan knows well what his constituents want. It's better for him to be popular with the green organizations, who have great influence in the media, than to worry about the public interest.

Folly in the heart of Tel Aviv

This week the Tel Aviv municipality decided to tear down Dizengoff Square, lowering it to street level. It is a bad, absurd decision.

It will bring back the problem that spurred the huge investments to raise the square above street level in the first place. The square was raised because of traffic problems, for cars and pedestrians.

Today the square is neglected, ugly and dirty - but Mayor Ron Huldai is to blame for that. There are simpler solutions. A garden could be built on it, with pretty wooden seats instead of the horrible blue benches there now. The old ficus trees surrounding the square can be rescued.

Of course, the unique fire-and-water sculpture by Yaacov Agam should be restored.

In that way we can acquire a beautiful and unique square at a cost of only NIS 20 million, instead of wasting NIS 150 million tearing it down.

Mutual responsibility

At a dramatic summit in Brussels last week the European Union leaders drew up an agreement to save the EU. The deal demands a balanced budget from all the EU countries, with sanctions against any transgressor.

The problem is that British Prime Minister David Cameron opposes the arrangement; he says it undermines Britain's sovereignty. Nor is he thrilled about transferring billions to irresponsible countries. Several other leaders are unenthusiastic about helping Greece, Italy and Spain.

That reminds me of a story from the 1970s. An Italian Jewish millionaire got into trouble, and there was a fear he would declare bankruptcy. Pinhas Sapir, Israel's finance minister at the time, heard about the case and recruited Jewish millionaires from around the world to help the troubled peer.

Sapir wanted to preserve the reputation of Jewish businessmen. He wanted everyone to know that a Jew pays his debts. He also wanted to prevent the anti-Semitic outbreak that would have followed had the Italian Jew failed to repay his debts.

Sapir succeeded. The other millionaires provided credit, and the businessman extricated himself from the mire.

Yet leaders in Europe are unwilling to put their hands in their pockets, creating a serious lack of confidence in the European rescue plan. There is still no consensual debt repayment arrangement for Greece, and there is a danger the crisis will spread.

In other words, in Europe there is no mutual responsibility, and they יhave no Sapir.