Amid heavy criticism from environmental activists, the government on Sunday
approved the agreement reached last week between the Finance Ministry and Israel
Chemicals, which stipulates the division of costs toward a full salt harvest of
the Dead Sea’s southern portion.
Under the agreement, Israel Chemicals
unit Dead Sea Works will contribute NIS 3.04 billion – 80 percent of the total
cost of the project.
The state will fund the remaining NIS 760m., of
which NIS 337m. is its share of the current value of a $30m. dividend it
withdrew in 1992 to finance the sea’s protection. The state’s share of potash
sales will rise from 5% to 10%, with the extra royalties to be designated to a
Dead Sea rehabilitation fund.
Environmental activists and various
politicians slammed the cabinet’s decision to approve the agreement, charging
that the royalty figures were way too low.
“I regret this decision – this
is an historic miss,” said Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, in a
statement released by his office. “Israel Chemicals is getting a unique natural
resource and its stakeholders have profited from it in huge sums, while the
public’s portion was very small.
Today was an historic opportunity with
the opening of negotiations, to increase significantly the portion of the
public, and unfortunately, [the government] did not do this.”
leader Shelly Yacimovich echoed Erdan’s condemnation, saying the agreement was
passed with no transparency, and it would leave the public with just “a few
small scraps” of the revenues derived from one of its greatest natural
resources. But she said the public had “matured,” and would not accept the
While highly critical of the agreement, Erdan did
acknowledge that some successes came out of its approval, as result of pressure
from his office and environmentalists. For example, after years of dawdling on
what to do about the overflowing waters of the southern basin, the government
did finally decide the company would bear most of the fiscal responsibility for
the salt harvest, he said.
The government also made a clarification to
the agreement, stipulating the current level of royalties will not be valid for
the long-term, and can be reopened for discussion again in the future, according
In the event that an expansion of pumping activities or the
construction of an additional mineral extraction pool occurs, a substantial rise
in taxes will be imposed upon the company immediately, in order to give the
public their fair share of the profits, he explained.
A third positive
element, in Erdan’s opinion, was the decision that a team must be established
within 45 days to designate the portion that Israel Chemicals will pay toward an
environmental rehabilitation fund, he said.
Adam Teva V'Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense), along with the Movement for Quality Government,
has pledged to fight against the government’s decision in the High
“The government support for this agreement constitutes/ is a
severe blow to public interest at large, and the approval of the continued
exploitation of the Dead Sea resources in insignificant payment sums that do not
reflect public ownership of the resource,” said Adam Teva V'Din Executive Director Amit
The two groups had already sent a letter to cabinet officials a
few days prior to the vote, warning them that if they approved the agreement the
groups would take legal action.
“Unfortunately, the government chose to
support the agreement that was made far from the public’s watchful eye, behind
closed doors and based on false assumptions,” Bracha said.
to accept the agreement is an extremely unreasonable decision and is based on a
disproportionate agreement that contradicts the principle of distributive
MK Dov Henin (Hadash) charged the government with
“abandoning” the Dead Sea to the “mercy of tycoons.”
The royalty levels,
he said, are far less than what they should be, lower even than those charged to
natural gas developers, Henin argued. Royalties should actually be higher among
Dead Sea enterprises, as their activities do not require the same types of risks
as does natural gas exploration, Henin said.
With the ever-worsening
environmental threats on the Dead Sea, there is an urgent need to enact
legislation that will protect the dwindling resource, he said.
accomplish this task, he called for an increase in public pressure on the
government to remove its opposition to his and Adam Teva V'Din’s comprehensive Dead Sea
rehabilitation bill during next week’s cabinet meeting – a bill that the cabinet
had initially rejected at a first vote over a month ago.
Friends of the Earth Middle East Israel Director Gidon Bromberg said there was
“no achievement” in raising the royalties to 10% since this was actually the
amount determined by the government in the 1960s, though never enforced. While
Bromberg praised the government for requiring Israel Chemicals to pay the brunt
of the salt harvest – adhering to the “polluter pays” principle – he criticized
the Finance Ministry for making such a deal “in the dark, away from public
Urging cabinet members to vote in favor of Henin’s proposed bill
next week, he added, “Only legislation that offers comprehensive solutions to
the distress of the Dead Sea will save the dying sea.”
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