Omri's Legacy

The establishment of Ayalon Park will be an example of that part of Ariel Sharon's legacy - or more accurately, Omri Sharon's - that says there are broad and justified social reasons for environmental concern.

A year ago, the green organizations celebrated the decision to approve the establishment of Ayalon Park, which is supposed to sprout in the southern reaches of Tel Aviv. They regarded the approval as one of their most important achievements of recent years. But now, it seems, the celebrations were premature.

The plan's opponents, headed by companies that own some of the land designated for the park, did not rest over the past year and continued their efforts to cancel the approval of the park and to replace it with another, smaller park, enabling them to make use of the land they have for construction. Their main effort is a petition to the High Court of Justice against the park plan's approval.

At this stage, the petition bears no complaints about the planning per se but rather about flaws in the process that transferred planning authority between various institutions that discussed the plan. The High Court could order a renewed discussion of the park plan, within the context of the National Planning and Construction Council, as the petitioners request, and thus cancel the legal approval the plan currently has.

Such a decision would have special meaning because of the political reality - in other words, the overwhelming odds that Ehud Olmert will be the next prime minister. He has not hidden his strict opposition to a large park and argues that construction should have been allowed on part of the land designated for the park.

If the national council is called upon to discuss the park plan again, with Olmert as prime minister, there is reason to presume heavy pressure will be brought to bear on government representatives in the council to vote against the plan and to resume efforts to shrink the park.

And even if the court rejects the petition or if the national council decides to reaffirm the plan despite the pressure - a heavy shadow will remain over the plan as the government will apparently be led by someone whose worldview is so opposed to the idea of a large park without any construction.

The Ayalon Park needs broad and constant government help to establish it. The local authorities in the Dan Region and private interests have promised to contribute to its establishment, but it is clear there will be a need for government assistance as well. The establishment of the park will be an example of that part of Ariel Sharon's legacy - or more accurately, Omri Sharon's - that says there are broad and justified social reasons for environmental concern.

Amid all the political and security affairs Sharon managed to pull off in recent years, he also found time now and again to support environmental initiatives that his son presented him.

In the case of the Ayalon Park, Sharon did not make do with a visit to the site but acted to make sure the representatives of various state ministries on the national council's subcommittees voted for the plan at a decisive moment, and later he pushed through two government decisions that advanced the plan.

The establishment of the Ayalon Park will above all embody the legacy of healthy living and a healthy environment. It is not to be only grass areas and play areas, but the revitalization of the largest refuse dump Israel, Hiriya, and the establishment of a drainage system that will prevent future flooding in South Tel Aviv neighborhoods.

It is a park that will have broad play and leisure areas alongside the lands of the Mikve Yisrael Agricultural School, which preserves the farming settlement tradition in Israel.

The Sharon government, in which Olmert was a key member, recognized the importance of the park and expressed that recognition in the decision that announced its support for the park: "Recognizing the great national importance of preserving green areas, the government welcomes the approval of the zoning plan for the Ayalon Park, which will serve as a green lung for metropolitan Tel Aviv and be designated for the use of the public for pleasure and leisure, for this generation and generations to come."

Compare that to the legacy of Olmert, who six years ago as mayor of Jerusalem issued the following unbelievable statement in response to a request by Megama Yeruka (Green Force), on another environmental matter: "I have made a rule that I don't get involved in matters that have to do with generations to come."