Cabinet quashes plan to rehabilitate Dead Sea

Instead, it approves salt harvest measures and increase in Dead Sea Works royalties.

Dead Sea 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Dead Sea 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Barely a week after the Dead Sea failed to make the list of winners in the New 7 Wonders competition, the cabinet rejected a bill that would provide for its rehabilitation and protection in an 8-7 vote on Sunday.
“The government has chosen to stand on the sides of the factories and has failed in safeguarding the Dead Sea,” said Amit Bracha, director of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V’Din), whose group was responsible for drafting the bill.
Though written by members of Adam Teva V’Din, the bill in question had originally been submitted to the Knesset by MK Dov Henin (Hadash), who called the proposed plan “historic” and gathered the official support of Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov and 11 other Knesset members. Among the main principles of the bill were provisions to preserve the Dead Sea and its surrounding natural resources, maintain the waters for future generations, curb plunging water levels in the northern region of the sea and create a new management system that would provide for reasonable amounts of mineral extraction while protecting biodiversity, according to its text.
“Thanks to the incisiveness of the environmental protection minister, who filed an appeal against the government decision, the proposed bill will be up for discussion again in another two weeks, and we hope that the government, which chose to side today with the factories instead of implementing real action that would save the Dead Sea, will chance its stance,” Bracha said in a statement.
The bill included specific measures to give the environmental protection minister more control on the management of the Dead Sea region, as well as established a national plan to reinstate some of the lost water from the northern basin by way of the Lower Jordan River, the amount of which would be determined by the water situation in Israel, according to Adam Teva V’Din.
Meanwhile, the law would limit infrastructural development in the Dead Sea region’s protected areas, like Ein Gedi, would impose an additional annual levy on Dead Sea Works for any operations conducted in the northern basin and would have the power to impose new environmental regulations on a renewal of the Dead Sea Works tender.
“It is easy to SMS for the good of the Dead Sea, but it is much harder to vote in reality for it,” Henin said, expressing his disappointment with the decision.
“We must not miss the moment – because the Dead Sea is really dying out before our eyes. Only a comprehensive deal, as our proposed bill suggests, can stop the rapid deterioration and begin to reverse this direction.”
Although the cabinet blocked this bill from passing until its probable rehearing in two weeks from now, the ministers did approve two other Dead Sea-related measures during the same Sunday meeting, this time focusing on the southern basin only. Proposed by MK Moshe Matalon (Israel Beiteinu), these two laws authorize a “full salt harvest” in the southern basin in order to prevent rise of water levels there, as well as an inflation of royalties on Dead Sea Works, which will be directed to a special fund dedicated to the Dead Sea’s rehabilitation, according to a statement from Matalon.
The bills stipulate that 90 percent of the cost of the salt harvest will fall in the hands of Dead Sea Works, while the Finance Ministry will be responsible for the remaining 10%.
“I welcome the decision of the cabinet, which understood the immediate need for the rapid rehabilitation of the Dead Sea area and its development as a gem of tourism and the environment alike,” Matalon said.
“The Dead Sea is a first-rate asset and public resource for the people of Israel, and as such, we are performing our mission to return it this way in the near future.”