The Government Must Save Israel's Shoreline

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Palmahim Beach.
Palmahim Beach.Credit: Moti Milrod

The struggle against building a resort on Palmahim Beach is considered one of the environmental movement’s most important victories in its protection of the country’s shorelines. The fight began five years ago with protests by teenage girls from the area and reached the cabinet table, where the government decided to revisit the construction plans.

Following that decision the Israel Nature and Parks Authority prepared an alternative plan, which rezones the area for a national park that will benefit the entire public.

What has happened since demonstrates that declarations and decisions are not sufficient. Protecting the environment has a price that must be paid when the objective is important. In the case of Palmahim Beach, the price involves compensating the developers who had planned to build the resort, after legally winning a tender and paying what the state had demanded for their building rights.

Since the decision to cancel the resort plan, the government ministries have not managed to resolve this issue. Without a compensation arrangement, the Central District Planning Committee – the panel meant to deal with the plan in the next few weeks – cannot approve the national park plan. The plan is thus liable to fall through, leaving the area zoned for resort construction.

The Palmahim resort is one of many building plans that were approved for the country’s coastal areas and other environmentally sensitive regions years ago, before principles and laws were formulated to restrict construction in those areas.

The State of Israel, with its small land area, cannot afford to pay for these planning mistakes of the past. There must be an effort by planning bodies and the government must allocate funds to cancel plans that endanger the country’s landscapes and natural resources. The Planning and Construction Law must be amended to allow for planning agencies to reevaluate plans that were approved years ago but have not yet been implemented. Several MKs have initiated such legislation but it has run into government objections.

There are several options for handling the government’s commitments to developers. One is to offer alternative sites for building the structures that were approved. Another is to pay them off as needed. Just as the government compensates landowners when it expropriates land for various public needs, so it should compensate landowners for land it has decided not to develop. After all, preserving Israel’s natural vistas is as important as paving roads and erecting infrastructures. Nature is the infrastructure for the public’s quality of life.

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