Plans of Last Resort

Advocates will not back down when it comes to protecting an important public resource simply because construction on the site was already authorized.

The cabinet resolution places responsibility for the project at the door of the Central District Planning and Building Committee. Although the cabinet is considered the supreme planning body, and can issue instructions and recommendations, the law and the attorney general's interpretation of it give the planning bodies the freedom to make independent decisions.

In other words, yesterday's resolution may not be the final word. The future of the Palmahim beach depends on the character of the discussions within the planning committee and on the committee's susceptibility to external pressures.

Palmahim Beach
Alon Ron

On one hand are the cabinet recommendation and the public opposition to a development plan that no planning institution would approve were it submitted today. But on the other hand are vested interests such as the Gan Raveh Local Council, which viewed the planned resort as an important tourism project.

The committee will also need to consider the legal implications of reversing its own decision, particularly in light of the fact that the attorney general found no substantive flaws in its original decision to approve the project.

If the committee does withdraw approval for the plan, the developers are expected to demand financial compensation for their investment in the project. If the state ends up providing such compensation it will not only be the first time a coastal construction plan is canceled but also be the first time it pays a price for reversing its original decision on the matter.

The cabinet resolution could set a precedent in other ways, too. Until today, environmental activists and organizations focused their struggles on projects still in the planning stages, sometimes persuading the planning bodies and government ministries to adopt their position.

This time, however, the battle target a plan that had already been approved. In the future, therefore, advocates will not back down when it comes to protecting an important public resource simply because construction on the site was already authorized.

Not an easy task

The cabinet, and particularly Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, should be commended for beginning a process that may not only abrogate an authorized construction plan but could also result in the state having to pay compensation - not an easy move for ministries that had hoped to profit from the seaside construction.

The resolution may also lead to the reexamination of other such plans that were approved years ago, like the Betzet Beach resort, plans for which were approved in 1992 but which has not been built.

Another, no less dramatic implication of the resolution is that the public voice matters, that the battle for a place the public holds dear can go from a protest tent pitched at a beach to a Knesset committee, continuing to the state comptroller and eventually attracting the concern of the prime minister himself, just after his return from discussing much loftier issues with the U.S. president.