Is the government advancing a plan for an artificial island off Gaza's coast?

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he has been thinking about this idea since his first term in 1996, but that then it was halted because of opposition from environmental groups.

January 8, 2018 08:15
3 minute read.
Gaza City

Palestinians stand atop a boat at Gaza's seaport in Gaza City October 16. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Israel is looking back to the future again.

Some 19 years after an Israeli-Dutch team published a feasibility paper on constructing artificial islands off the coast for a variety of purposes – from housing airports to large infrastructure facilities – the cabinet on Sunday established a committee to revisit the issue yet again.

Numerous ministerial committees have kicked the issue around since 1999, including in 2000, 2007, and 2012. Yet the state is not closer to actually building one of these artificial islands – Dubai-style – in 2018, than it was in 1999. It is all still very much in the committee stage.

Netanyahu, at Sunday’s meeting, submitted the proposal to establish yet another committee to look into the matter.

This committee has nothing to do with a proposal by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz to build an artificial island off the coast of the Gaza Strip for the Palestinians that would include a port, cargo terminal and airport, but which has run into opposition from Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

A model of the proposed artificial island to be built off of Gaza's coast (credit: Transportation Ministry)

“Israel is one of the most crowded countries in the world, and it is predicted that by mid-century it might well be the most crowded in the world,” Netanyahu said. “We have a coast on which we have built infrastructure such as desalination plants, power stations and other infrastructure facilities. This proposal is designed to build, off Israel’s coast, artificial islands that will absorb all these infrastructures, clear the coasts and – of course – give us more land area.”

Netanyahu said that he has been thinking about this idea since his first term in 1996, but that then it was halted because of opposition from environmental groups.

“What has happened since then, over the past 20 years, is that the technology of artificial islands has greatly changed and developed and it has also evolved in the sense of being more environment-friendly,” he said. “We can answer all of the financial and ecological feasibility issues. This is certainly within our grasp.”

Netanyahu said that other countries have made great strides in this area.

“We are learning from them and therefore, this visionary project is important for the State of Israel,” he said.

The first Dutch-Israeli team that looked into the matter in 1999 presented recommendations to construct artificial islands to the cabinet in 2000. The cabinet then established a professional team to do a feasibility study. That team recommended in 2007 that the artificial islands be used to house a cluster of infrastructure projects, and in 2012 the cabinet set up yet another steering committee to discuss details for implementing that plan.

In addition to much talk at a national level, there has also been endless talk at local levels, both by the Herzliya and Tel Aviv municipalities, regarding the feasibility of constructing artificial islands off their coasts. The ideas for these islands ranged from constructing an airport on one island to building 40,000 housing units, hotels and a stadium on another.

Sunday’s cabinet decision mandated a committee, headed by Prof. Avi Simhon, the head of the National Economic Council, to present recommendations within 180 days about which already existing infrastructure facilities could be moved within 15 years to an artificial island, or which necessary new infrastructure facilities could be built on one of the islands.

The committee will also look at various technological possibilities for building the islands, where they should be located, and recommendations to change regulatory procedures to cut red tape to expedite moving the proposals forward.

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