Dead Sea 311.
(photo credit: (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz threatened on Sunday to establish a committee to
examine the state’s shares from Dead Sea quarrying if Israel Chemicals unit Dead
Sea Works does not respond positively to a government proposal on salt
The government must receive a response to its proposal by
midnight Tuesday; otherwise, it will establish “a second Sheshinski Committee,”
Steinitz said. The first Sheshinski Committee, whose recommendations became law
in March, increased the state’s share of gas and oil revenues to figures ranging
between 52 and 62 percent, depending on the case. The state previously held a
one-third share in those revenues.
The Knesset approved preliminary
readings of two Dead Sea-related bills last week. The first would authorize a
full salt harvest of the sea’s southern portion, charging 90% of the cost to
Dead Sea Works and the remaining 10% to the Finance Ministry. The second would
increase the state’s share of Dead Sea Works sales from 5% to 10%, with the
extra royalties to be designated to a fund for the sea’s
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan and Tourism
Minister Stas Misezhnikov jointly sent a letter to Steinitz on Sunday expressing
“satisfaction” but “wonder” at the Finance Ministry’s stance on negotiations
with Israel Chemicals.
During initial discussions about the harvest, both
Erdan and Misezhnikov expressed their opposition to the ministry’s initial
suggestion that the company bear no more than 50% of the cost, arguing that the
plant must pay most of the total sum.
They said in the letter than they
find it “very strange” that the Treasury is now taking pride in the decision to
impose 90% of the cost on Dead Sea Works, when just six months ago it had been
attacking the two ministers for their positions.
Erdan and Misezhnikov
also stressed that they do not see a significant achievement in the decision to
raise Dead Sea Works’ royalties from 5% to 10%, and that they do not see the
current plan as a long-term solution. With royalties remaining only at 10%, they
said, the company will perhaps be encouraged to increase production – even at
the expense of the dwindling northern basin. Emphasizing what an important
natural resource the Dead Sea is to the environment, the economy and tourism,
the ministers wrote that the government must do everything that it can to
preserve its uniqueness for future generations.