Dead Sea 311.
(photo credit: (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
Environmental and tourism proponents on Tuesday slammed the Dead Sea deal that
the Finance Ministry made with Israel Chemicals last week.
came during a Knesset Finance Committee session being held on the issue a week
and a half after the cabinet approved the deal, which stipulated that the
company must pay for 80 percent of the southern basin’s full salt harvest and
increase royalty payments to the government from 5% to 10%. The salt must be
harvested to prevent flooding that would endanger area hotels.
meeting also came a day after the cabinet rejected, for the second time, a
comprehensive Dead Sea rehabilitation bill drafted by Adam Teva V’Din (Israel
Union for Environmental Defense) and put forward by MK Dov Henin (Hadash). The
proposed rehabilitation would have aided in curbing plunging water levels in the
northern basin, protecting local biodiversity and restructuring the system that
manages mineral extraction.
At the meeting, Environmental Protection
Minister Gilad Erdan and Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov expressed their
vehement opposition to the deal, while Erdan said that the agreement with Israel
Chemicals would damage the Dead Sea in the long term.
“The Dead Sea is
not a bath full of minerals for the maximization of profits,” Erdan
Henin accused the government of “abandoning the Dead Sea –
environmentally, socially and economically,” and charged that while the Dead Sea
producers earned a lot of money from their enterprises, almost none of this
reached the public.
While his rejected bill would have cost the
government money up front, the future costs from the Dead Sea’s destruction
would prove to be much greater, Henin argued. Due to the low royalty rates, the
agreement even encourages Israel Chemicals to expand its pumping in the northern
basin, which creates serious problems – like an increase in sinkholes and other
environmental hazards, according to the Hadash MK.
government does not understand that this is a critical issue,” he
“In the future, others will investigate how the state abandoned the
Dead Sea to extreme deterioration for the benefit of captains of industry. And
all this occurred in darkness, circumventing the Knesset.”
committee session, green group Friends of the Earth Middle East expressed
continued disappointment with both the Israel Chemicals agreement and Monday’s
decision to reject Henin’s proposal, even blaming the acceptance of the
agreement for the rejection of the more comprehensive bill.
“This is a
fatal blow to the Dead Sea,” said Michal Sagiv, project coordinator for Dead Sea
Rescue at Friends of the Earth.
Instead of siding with the public to back
a more “comprehensive solution” for the Dead Sea, the government chose to side
with “the interests of tycoons,” she added, noting that over 16,000 Israelis had
signed an online petition – backed by Friends of the Earth, Adam Teva V’Din and
activist organization Avaaz – calling on ministers to back the bill in the past
couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, in an effort to protect not only the Dead Sea
but the rest of the nation’s resources, Erdan sent a personal letter to Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, demanding the establishment of a public
committee focused on better protecting the country’s natural
Among the committee’s responsibilities would be reviewing the
exploitation of natural resources, as well as examining the payments the state
and public receive from the cultivation of these assets, Erdan wrote. The body
would then submit its recommendations.
According to Erdan, such a
committee would have been relevant to last week’s approval of the Dead Sea deal,
as well as many other situations in which private entities are making profits by
operating their businesses using public, natural resources. The committee, he
said, would include representatives from all the government ministries to which
the subject was relevant.
“There is no justification for a subject as
widespread as this, with ramifications for a variety of sectors, to be
investigated and managed by one governmental office or another, which has no
vision or understanding of all the interests that are affected by the
exploitation of natural resources,” he wrote.
Nadav Shemer contributed to