The High Court has officially dismissed a petition from green groups against a January government decision about Dead Sea royalty requirements, Israel Chemicals announced on Monday.
After a long-time standoff between the Finance Ministry and Israel Chemicals over the costs of a full salt harvest in the Dead Sea’s Pool No. 5, where water levels have been dangerously rising, Finance Ministry officials and representatives of Dead Sea Works – an Israel Chemicals subsidiary – reached an agreement on December 29, which was then approved by the government on January 1 in the weekly cabinet meeting. The harvest would help lower the water levels of pool no. 5, which is in danger of encroaching on surrounding hotels and resorts.
Under the agreement, Dead Sea Works would need to contribute NIS 3.04 billion, 80 percent of the project’s total cost. The state would fund the remaining NIS 760m., and its share of sales of potash – mined salts – would rise from 5% to 10%, with the additional royalties flowing into a Dead Sea rehabilitation fund.
Just hours after the cabinet had approved a royalty budget for Dead Sea Works operations on January 1, environmental activism groups Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) and the Movement for Quality Government pledged to file a High Court petition against the Israeli government, the Finance Ministry and Dead Sea Works. The organizations had argued that the decision goes against the public interest and allows for continued exploitation of the Dead Sea without proper environmental protection.
Adam Teva V’Din and MK Dov Henin (Hadash) had previously drafted a comprehensive environmental rehabilitation bill for the Dead Sea, which was rejected for the first time at the end of November and again in January.
In response to their petition’s dismissal, now six months later, Adam Teva V’Din and the Movement for Quality Government expressed their joint disapproval.
“The High Court did not understand the grave implications of the agreement on the public and on state finances,” the groups said in a statement.
By agreeing to this deal, the government will be losing hundreds of millions of shekels that belong to the Israeli public, according to the organizations.
“Likewise, the ruling perpetuates the government strategy of abandoning the Dead Sea and gives authorization to closing government deals with a polluting company behind closed doors, a custom that should have passed from the world already,” the groups said, charging the Finance Ministry with deceiving the public.
The environmental organizations pledged to continue their fight, in order to “protect the Dead Sea with every means at their disposal.”
In February, the government passed a five-year, NIS 830 million budget for Dead Sea environmental protection and tourism, satisfying both Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan. Green groups, however, were still displeased and argued that the newly approved budget would not be sufficient to properly care for the Dead Sea.
Nadav Shemer contributed to this report.