Dog at Palmahim Beach .
(photo credit: DOV GREENBLAT)
Putting an end to any remaining qualms about the fate of Israel's Palmahim Beach, the Central District Committee for Planning and Building officially terminated plans for a resort complex in favor of establishing a national park at the site on Sunday.
Ten days ago, following some 24 hours of intense pressure from environmental organizations, government officials came to an initial compensation agreement with the beach's real estate developers for the losses they have incurred by not completing their project as planned. Although the Central District Committee determined in December 2014 that the entire beach, located just south of Rishon Lezion, would be recognized as a national park, doing so would legally require compensation from the government, which had issued the initial tender for the prospective resort.
Eliminating the need for recently planned objection hearings, officials determined on January 7 that the Israel Nature and Parks Authority – with the backing of Environmental Protection Ministry, the Finance Ministry, the Israel Lands Authority and the Fund for Open Spaces – would be responsible for financially compensating the developer.
On Sunday, the Central District Committee finalized the agreement with its approval, officially canceling the resort plans and green-lighting the national park's establishment.
"Beaches belong to the public, and we will ensure that they will remain that way," said Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
The fate of Palmahim Beach has been a hot-button issue since 2004, when developers first signed an agreement to build a resort complex at the site, after the government issued a tender for the project.
Environmentalists responded in fury, slamming the plans as destructive to the unique flora and fauna that characterize the region. What began as a local, grassroots effort eventually recruited the forces of the nation's largest green groups, followed by Gilad Erdan, during his term as environmental protection minister.
Although the government decided to reconsider plans to construct the resort in the summer of 2010, the project’s developers had already purchased the land necessary for the resort. Any future cancelation of the project would therefore require their eventual compensation.
In December 2014, the Central District Committee for Planning and Building decided to approve an Israel Nature and Parks Authority plan to transform the entire beach area into national park land, rejecting the original program to establish the resort there. Five months later, in May 2015, the Committee for the Protection of the Coastal Environment made a similar decision.
Nonetheless, as a scheduled date for an objections hearing approached two weeks ago, the government had not yet provided the developers with the compensation necessary for their losses.
On January 6, just a few days before the planned hearing, green groups appealed to Kahlon, demanding that he find a way to compensate the developers and save the beach. Among the signatories of the appeal were the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) and Adi Lustig, one of two sisters behind the initial grassroots campaign at Palmahim.
The next day, government officials came to an agreement that the INPA would be responsible for providing the necessary compensation.
In response to Sunday's approval, SPNI expressed optimism regarding the progress made there.
"Palmahim Beach is a good example in which a steadfast and active local public, together with professional environmental organizations, can reach very great achievements in conserving nature and the environment," the group said.