Representatives of the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Israel Nature
and Parks Authority (INPA) will propose a plan on Wednesday to transform the
entire Palmahim region into a nature reserve and national park, ministry
representatives told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview on Tuesday
The ministry and INPA officials will submit their proposal to the
steering committee of the Central District Committee for Planning and Building,
a highly anticipated meeting among the country’s green activists as they face
the prospect of a vacation complex cropping up on the ecologically diverse
Under the new plan, if the steering committee and then the
full central district committee approve it, national park land would stretch
along the coast for the entire length of Kibbutz Palmahim. While some basic park
service infrastructure would be permitted at the national park, the nature
reserve – which would extend along the shore from the southern tip of Kibbutz
Palmahim to Ashdod – would be untouchable, explained Gideon Major, director for
the central region at the Environmental Protection Ministry.
succeed tomorrow, we know we made one more step in this process,” he
As of today, a chunk of the area next to Kibbutz Palmahim is
already national park land, but the remainder and the nature reserve lands would
be a completely new addition, he explained.
While efforts to rid the
ecologically diverse beach of plans to build a leisure site on its sands have been taking place for years, in July 2010 green activists
succeeded in convincing the government to nix the project. The plans for the
complex, however, are slated to come back to the table of the regional planning
and building committee on Wednesday – because the project contractor has not yet
received a compensation agreement from either the Israel Lands Authority (ILA)
or the government.
Just last week, the Society for the Protection of
Nature (SPNI) and other environmental groups launched an online campaign,
appealing to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Environmental Protection
Minister Gilad Erdan to intervene and prevent any construction on the Palmahim
As an alternative to the original Palmahim site – and instead of
compensation – the ministry and INPA officials will be proposing a smaller site,
across the road and near the air force base, as an alternative place for the
However, even the planners behind the new proposal said
they feared the contractors would reject this proposition, and that the ILA
would still need to come up with the compensatory money to reimburse a fully
“This is the real alternative,” said Vered Edry, an
environmental planner for the ministry.
Major agreed, adding that along
with granting the region nature reserve and national park status, “that’s the
only way this can be solved.”
Earlier Tuesday, on a brilliantly sunny
afternoon at the same hotly contested Palmahim shoreline, Green Movement
chairman Alon Tal strummed his guitar as he and The Tzipi Livni Party’s namesake
sang the Israeli folk song “Hofim” (Beaches).
Members of the Green
Movement and Livni’s party gathered at the beach, in an effort to prevent
construction of the vacation complex.
Describing the beach and the sea as
a place for personal growth, Livni stressed that there must be a better balance
between development and preservation of nature.
“Palmahim is not the only
story in which we need to change the way we see the beach in Israel. We have
Palmahim, Nitzanim and other beaches as well,” she told the Post following the
ceremony. “For me personally, it opens one’s mind and heart when you are at the
beach. Exchanging this for housing is unacceptable.”
Although the initial
Palmahim battle “ended in success,” the government’s unwillingness to pay
compensation promptly and the plan’s resultant return to the committee tables
has made the beach activists insecure, Livni explained.
“I think that
Palmahim became a symbol of the national consensus for a significant
conservation effort for Israel’s limited coastline,” Tal told the Post. “Sadly
it has now become a symbol for government lip service to environmental
priorities and the unbearable lack of performance of the Netanyahu
administration in matters involving environmental protection.”
the launch of the SPNI campaign to save the beach last week, a government source
told the Post that a compensatory agreement between the ILA and the contractor
was, in fact, already under way.
“I’m sure that since we are before
elections and the government published yesterday that one of their successes was
Palmahim beach... they are going to pay,” Livni said, referring to Likud
newspaper ads detailing Palmahim as an administration success
Joining Livni and Tal at the Palmahim preservation event was Yifat
Meirovitz-Yefet, a city councilwoman in neighboring Rishon Lezion. Having grown
up in Rishon, Meirovitz-Yefet said she could not imagine a leisure complex
replacing the beach. Since the beginning of the fight in 2007, she has been
directly involved in combating the plans.
“All of my childhood was here,”