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Salvation of the Dead Sea must become a national priority, President Moshe Katsav said on Wednesday to an interministerial and regional group convened by Shimon Hefetz, the President's military adjutant to discuss the future of the Dead Sea.
The receding water level of the Dead Sea has had negative impacts on the environment; not the least of which is the erosion of the shoreline.
There has been awareness of the problem for more than a century, but most notably since the 1960s.
Over the years, various ministries, regional councils, institutes for Israel Studies, the Water Commissioner, the Geological Institute, the Israel Hotels Association and other bodies have attempted to find solutions to the problem - but to no avail.
It wasn't a matter of hydro-engineers, geologists and other experts being short on ideas. It was simply that they couldn't agree.
At the start of discussions at Beit Hanassi on Wednesday, Katsav stressed the urgency of consensus - "if not total at least by a large majority" - and said that he was not prepared to hear too many disagreements.
But the situation turned out to be symptomatic of the old adage that where there are two Jews there are three opinions.
Katsav could not even get each of the thirty or so participants to concur on the fact that the recession of the Dead Sea water levels is a natural disaster.
There were those who refused to see it in such a drastic light, because this would imply that there is no solution, whereas to label it a problem would be to acknowledge that there is a solution.
Several solutions have been proposed in the past - most notably the construction of a canal for the transportation of water from either the Mediterranean Sea or the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. There has also been talk of importing water from Turkey.
The introduction of pipeline could enhance tourism, revitalize industry and agriculture and provide thousands of new jobs.
However no solution can be implemented without proper feasibility studies on how it would affect the color and quality of the water, and what impact the new water levels would have on geology and on the tourist industry.
All the hotels in the area were built after significant declines in water levels. If the water is replenished, albeit at a slow rate, hotel foundations will be weakened and hotel lobbies will eventually be flooded.
Suggestions that hotels be moved back from the shoreline have been rebuffed by hoteliers on two counts: the first being the expense involved, and the second that the attraction to tourists is the very fact that they can go directly from the hotel into the sea that has so many curative properties.
Among the dangers of permitting the status quo is that as the Dead Sea continues to recede, fresh water can move through layers of the subsurface, the strength of which has been bolstered by the salt in the Dead Sea. Without the salt, the subsurface weakens and caves in. As a result, there are now several craters in the region, and there is increasing likelihood of earthquakes.
Katsav said that he would recommend to the incoming prime minister that a special interministerial committee be appointed to deal in the most comprehensive fashion with the Dead Sea issue. Such a committee should be given both the authority and the resources to decide on and implement an agreed-upon solution, he said.
Meanwhile he urged the various ministries and other bodies represented at the meeting to formulate a viable solution over the next three months. Whatever they come up with has to be so crystal-clear he warned, "that the government will find it easy to accept."
Whatever the nature of the solution, it will cost the tax-payer a great deal of money. Figures bandied about during the meeting were not in the millions but the billions.
Although Katsav has barely eighteen months left in which to complete his term as President, he left no doubt that this was an issue that he will not allow to remain on the back burner. "We can't accept this ongoing recession," he declared. "We cannot resign ourselves to the situation. We have to come up with creative and effective ideas that will be beneficial to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority."
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