Palmahim Beach National Park Plan May Run Aground

Israel Nature and Parks Authority cannot guarantee compensation to developers of cancelled resort on site, so court may scrap park and reinstate original construction program.

Palmahim Beach.
Moti Milrod

The plan to cancel the construction of a resort on Palmahim Beach and turn the area into a national park instead may fall through within months if the state does not find a way to compensate the resort’s developers.

Without a compensation arrangement, the Central District Planning and Building Committee will have difficulty approving the national park plan, which would leave the land’s present zoning for a resort area in place.

Intensive public protests several years ago led the cabinet to order the committee to reconsider the resort, which the developers had contracted to build in 2004. In January 2013, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority submitted a plan to turn the beach into a national park and nature reserve. After lengthy delays, the park plan was recently released for public comment and the committee is to conduct hearings on it next month.

The committee, however, is demanding that the park’s developers – i.e., the INPA, which is a state agency – issue a letter of indemnity committing to pay the developers compensation should they sue and be awarded compensation by the courts. However, the INPA cannot issue such a letter of indemnity on its own; it must be backed by assurances from government ministries, particularly the treasury.

The Planning and Building Law gives the relevant planning committee 60 days to approve a plan after it is deposited for public objections. If that does not occur, the plan is cancelled. However, the committee can ask for an extension to hear more objections to the plan, and it’s possible that the committee will do so to buy more time. However, it is clear to everyone involved that the time left for approving the national park is running out.

The resort developers, Maoz Daniel and the Evelon Group, brought the case to the Central District Court last year, but agreed to withdraw their suit half a year ago. Judge Jacob Shienman wrote at the time that “it would behoove the state if, under these special circumstances, it considers the plaintiffs’ proposal to bring the dispute to arbitration.” The state launched a mediation process led by attorney Menachem Mazuz but it was halted when Mazuz was appointed to the Supreme Court. According to the developers, there have been no subsequent talks on the matter.

The Finance Ministry, which is responsible for the Planning Administration, said, “The plan is now at the public hearings and objections stage, and we will be able to address these issues only when the process ends.”

The INPA said, “The committee’s demand for a letter of indemnity is liable to lead to the [national park] plan’s cancellation, the loss of an open area for the public and even a return to the construction of a resort. We are awaiting the decision of the planning institutions and the treasury.”