MKs Pass Kinneret Protection Law

The Knesset yesterday passed the first law in Israel's history to regulate and protect the beaches of the country's largest waterway, Lake Kinneret.

The law mandates the establishment of a single, unified agency, with enforcement powers, to be responsible for the Kinneret's beaches. It also extends the Coastal Environment Preservation Law, which mandates free access to public beaches along the Mediterranean and Red Seas and forbids damage to their coastlines, to the Kinneret as well.

The law enacted yesterday is a merger of three separate bills submitted by MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor), MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) and the Finance Ministry. Its stated goal is "to regulate management of the Kinneret's beaches with a comprehensive and unified view ... and to increase supervision and enforcement of legislation aimed at preventing or limiting damage to the Kinneret."

Currently, some 20 different bodies manage the Kinneret's 56 kilometers of beach. Each body has its own responsibilities, its own interests and its own management policy. This lack of uniformity has led to huge gaps in the enforcement of relevant laws, resulting in building code violations and the illegal fencing in of beaches. It has also led to widely varying entrance fees, severe littering and general neglect.

The new law establishes a single agency to oversee all the Kinneret's beaches and gives it the power to ensure free access to them. This agency, called Kinneret Urban Union, will be responsible for managing, maintaining and developing the beaches, ensuring the lake's cleanliness and removing any obstacles that might prevent access to the beaches. It will also have the power to enforce planning and building laws on nearby roads.

The agency will have a 12-member board of directors consisting of representatives of government ministries, local authorities, academia and environmental organizations.

In addition, extending the Coastal Preservation Law to the Kinneret means that any construction plan within 50 meters of the Kinneret's beaches will require approval by the Committee for Preserving the Coastal Environment, as well as by the local and regional zoning boards. Plans that were approved before the law's passage will be exempt from this requirement, but it will apply to any future plans.

Since the Kinneret is also Israel's primary water source, the law permits damage to the lake's coastal environment for the sake of managing the country's water supply. However, it requires that maximum efforts be made to minimize this damage.

In effect, the law deprives nearby municipalities of authority over construction in the vicinity of the Kinneret and transfers this authority to Kinneret Urban Union and the Committee for Preserving the Coastal Environment. This means that entrepreneures will no longer be able to obtain building permits by pressuring local government officials.

Pines-Paz said the law puts "an end to the anarchy and abandonment of the Kinneret's beaches." Khenin said "the Knesset has restored the Kinneret to Israel's citizens."

But the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel injected a note of caution into the celebrations. The law's goals, it said, will be achieved only if the Kinneret Urban Union is actually established, and if it proves to be a strong and independent agency.