A view of Upper Galilee from Mount Hillel with Mount Hermon in the background.
(photo credit: MINISTRY OF TOURISM)
Bringing an end to years of negotiations between the government and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, the cabinet approved on Sunday an agreement to enable the transfer of funds from the organization to both the state’s coffers and to the Environmental Protection Ministry.
According to the deal, KKL-JNF will transfer in 2016 some NIS 1 billion directly to the state, for projects that receive the approval of a “Committee for National Initiatives,” administered jointly by the government and by KKL-JNF. In addition to these funds, KKL-JNF will in 2016 transfer another NIS 190 million to the Environmental Protection Ministry, to be designated for green projects as agreed upon by the environmental protection minister and the KKLJNF chairman, the ministry said.
From 2017 through 2021, KKLJNF is to continue to allocate funds for the activities of the Committee for National Initiatives, with the amounts varying based on a specific formula presented in the agreement.
The deal approved on Sunday was the result of negotiations that took place between Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay and KKL-JNF representatives, at the behest of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“This agreement creates an enormous annual budget for environmental needs, and together with KKL-JNF we will advance Israel to a very green place,” Gabbay said on Sunday.
KKL-JNF and the Israeli government have long been negotiating the terms of a final agreement in which the organization would transfer revenues from its annual land sales to the state. In November, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a Finance Ministry proposal mandating this transfer, as part of plans to reduce the country’s budget deficit. That approval occurred a week after KKL-JNF’s decision to sever its ties to the Israel Lands Authority and manage areas under its jurisdiction independently.
The final terms of the deal approved on Sunday, however, are considerably different from the most recently proposed version, particularly with regard to the NIS 190m. portion of the funds.
Rather than go to the Environmental Protection Ministry, this amount had initially been slated to flow directly to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, simultaneously increasing KKL-JNF’s presence on the authority’s board from one to three members. This plan was met with harsh criticism from both green groups and the INPA itself, due to what they described as conflicts of interest between the authority and the fund.
The green groups spoke of the INPA as a government authority operating on public tax funds to manage the country’s nature reserves and national parks, while describing KKL-JNF as a “private company” whose aim is to “preserve the land of the Jewish people,” in a letter to government officials two weeks ago.
At the time, KKL-JNF responded stressing that the organization had undergone a “fundamental process of change” in the past decade and that the fund was wholly committed to preserving both biodiversity and the INPA’s independence.
Following the cabinet approval of the final agreement on Sunday, nixing the controversial section about the INPA, the authority declined to comment.
KKL-JNF chairman Efi Stenzler welcomed the deal, describing it as “the revival of the historical convention between the government and KKL-JNF.”
Some of the projects that the organization is considering promoting are the expansion of the Nahal Beersheba rehabilitation project, programs to reduce pollutants from the Haifa Bay area and strategic investments in biodiesel development in the Arava, he said.
The agreement, Stenzler added, is a “step that represents the mutual trust, desire to intensify cooperation and good news for the residents of the State of Israel.”