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Photo by: Courtesy The Tzipi Livni Party
Ministry, INPA to turn Palmahim into nature reserve
By SHARON UDASIN
02/01/2013
Tzipi Livni, Alon Tal fight for preservation of biodiverse beach, prevent construction of the vacation complex.
 
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 night.

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 shoreline.

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.

“If we succeed tomorrow, we know we made one more step in this process,” he said.

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 coast.

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 leisure complex.

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 canceled plan.

“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.”

Following 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 story.

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,” she said.
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