A hotel is seen against a backdrop of mountains in the Red Sea resort of Eilat [Illustrative].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A highly disputed plan to construct some 27,000 hotel rooms over the next decade received Knesset plenary approval on Monday night, despite the objections of environmentalists.
Promoted by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, the “Hotels Law” is an amendment to the country’s Planning and Building Law that recognizes hotel construction as a matter of national infrastructure – a move intending to ease the bureaucracy associated with the building process. In addition, the amendment enables hotel proprietors to reduce their financial risk by designating up to 20 percent of their buildings for residential purposes, pending regional planning committee approval.
The Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee authorized final changes to the amendment on Monday afternoon, nearly two months after passing the legislation in second and third readings. By Monday evening, the amendment was listed as one of the last items up for a vote in the Knesset plenum’s agenda, and eventually received approval by around midnight.
Although the final version of the amendment stipulates that the allowances for residential construction do not apply to the shoreline, environmentalists expressed fears on Monday that the plans would still threaten Israel’s beaches.
An existing law prevents currently prevents any such construction from occurring within 100m. of the country’s coast.
Meanwhile, the latest rendition of the Hotels Law mandates that construction plans occurring between 100m. and 300m. from the coast receive the approval of both the Committee for the Protection of the Coastal Environment and the relevant regional planning committee.
Previously, the legislation had called for the approval of a “special local planning committee,” rather than the stricter regional panels, according to a Tourism Ministry representative.
Nonetheless, Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen Paran, who has been a leading opponent against the amendment, was far from satisfied with the revisions.
Although she acknowledged that the changes inserted do include a clause to limit beach building, she argued that “the entire section enabling residential construction in new and existing hotels be eliminated.”
“Through underhanded opportunism, the coalition decided to sell the public’s beaches,” Cohen Paran said. “This is a new low in the confidence, as shaky as it is, between the opposition and the coalition, and unfortunately preserving Israel’s coasts is inconsequential to the coalition.”
MK Dov Hanin (Hadash) expressed his concern about the “far-reaching, fundamental determination” of deeming hotels national infrastructure.
“I welcome the idea that harm to beaches will become smaller, but on the whole I believe that this bill is problematic, harmful and dangerous,” Hanin said.
Meanwhile, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel voiced continued opposition to the plans.
“The role of ministers and Knesset members is to serve the public, to act on its behalf and in its favor,” a statement from SPNI said. “Those who voted today for the legislation acted against the public and helped approve a law that will harm the public.”
Tourism Ministry officials maintained that the Hotels Law will cause no harm to the environment and only bring about a much needed expansion in Israel’s hotel room availability. In June, Levin pledged that the new legislation “preserves the authority of the planning institutions to prevent uncontrolled construction along the beaches.”
“The policy of the Israel Tourism Ministry is clear – we will not allow hotels to be built that damage the shoreline, as was the case until now,” he said at the time. “The program has one objective – to reduce vacation costs once and for all.”
According to the plans, the Tourism Ministry aims to see about 15,000 hotel rooms built within five years and about 27,000 within 10 years. Hotel developers will face reduced bureaucracy, only needing to apply for permits through the National Infrastructure Committee rather than an assortment of authorities.
The ability to designate up to 20% of the building as residential space enables entrepreneurs to expand their source of financing and minimize risk, while increasing Israel’s housing supply, the ministry said.
At the conclusion of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee discussion on Monday afternoon, committee chairman David Amsalem (Likud) stressed that “there will be no construction on the coast.”
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon likewise pledged that construction would not be allowed on the shoreline. “Beaches belong to the public and thus they shall remain,” he said.