Planning committee to decide on fate of Palmahim

NGOs fight five-year struggle for beach to become national park, rather than resort village.

Alon Tal sings at Palmahim Beach 370 (photo credit: Courtesy The Tzipi Livni Party)
Alon Tal sings at Palmahim Beach 370
(photo credit: Courtesy The Tzipi Livni Party)
The Central District Committee for Planning and Building will convene on Monday to determine whether to move forward with a new plan for Palmahim Beach that would officially nix the resort village planned for the area and instead deem it a national park.
Two years into a long public struggle that began in 2008, the government ordered the district committee to reassess the plans for the beach – which in turn, called for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority to propose a suitable alternative plan. Almost three years later, however, no new option had surfaced and no compensation proposal for the developers had arisen. By December 2012, the resort plans therefore emerged back on the district committee’s table.
While the developer still holds the rights to the land today, INPA representatives submitted a proposal for the territory’s transformation into a national park and nature reserve to the district committee’s steering board on January 2.
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan has said he will personally attend Monday’s meeting, stressing that he will continue to fight the battle against the resort. Just last week, the Defense Ministry joined the Environmental Protection Ministry in calling for the area to be turned into park and reserve land.
“I brought the government to discuss the future of the beach for the first time in history and to rescue it, and this is an achievement that I will not let anyone spoil,” Erdan said. “I will come myself to the district committee and I will present the government stance that leaves the beach open to the general public.”
Concerned about the fate of their beloved beach, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), which is among the country’s first environmental organizations, launched an online petition to cancel the resort plan that has accrued thousands of signatures.
A number of organizations, including Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense), Green Course, Shatil and the Committee to Save Palmahim Beach have been working with SPNI.
Letters against the development plans have also come from Labor MKs Miki Rosenthal and Nachman Shai, Dov Henin (Hadash), Nitzan Horowitz and Zehava Gal-On of Meretz and Haim Katz (Likud), according to Adam Teva V’Din.
In 2000, government planning authorities first approved a future Palmahim beach resort, and four years later, the Israel Lands Authority sold the land for NIS 8 million to private developers.
After another four years, the first tractors emerged on the land. That same year, the struggle of the residents and environmental organizations began, and Adam Teva V’Din won a court petition prohibiting the developers from building within 100 meters of the water.
The following year, in 2009, the state comptroller issued a report slamming the Palmahim resort plan, and Erdan brought the matter to the government’s attention.
“In light of the decisions made to date, beginning with the State Comptroller’s Report and until the government decision, not only is there no legal obstacle in canceling the plan to establish a vacation village on the beach, but the committee is actually obligated to do so,” said Keren Halperin, director of Adam Teva V’Din’s legal department. “Every decision of the district committee that enables building on the beach violates its responsibility and its public role.”
Legally, the committee has no responsibility to pay compensation to the developer, and only must approve an alternative plan for the region, Halperin explained. The financial obligation to the entrepreneurs lies with the Israel Lands Authority.
“Israel has too few open natural beaches, and it is the duty of the state to protect them, for the sake of preserving natural treasures and the landscapes and for the welfare and quality of life of the citizens,” a statement from SPNI said.