The government’s decision this week to all but cancel the grandiose beachfront hotel project at Palmachim is an unprecedented achievement for the Greens.
The Cabinet decided to officially oppose the establishment of a 300-room vacation resort at the Palmachim beach, near Rishon LeTzion. The decision was a compromise of sorts, proposed by Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman and Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, in that the final decision will still be made by the National Planning and Construction Committee. The committee could either approve a smaller version of the hotel plan, or change the zoning status of the land to "open, public land."
The fight against the project was led by the Public Committee to Save the Palmachim Beach, which issued this statement following the Cabinet decision: “Tens of thousands of people, the State Comptroller, the Environment Minister, Knesset Members, and environmental organizations – all of them stood strongly together with us and helped us restore the beach to its true owners, the public. After all the struggles and tensions, it’s good to know that decisions like this can be made.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to the compromise, despite his concern that not only will the government not make money on the project, but it will have to pay a hefty amount in compensation to the developers.
The decision paves the way for other beachfronts in Israel to be saved. Possibly most 'endangered' is a large property south of Rosh HaNikra in Israel’s northwestern corner, named Betzet. Several investors bought the property for a bargain price of 10.2 million shekels (double the price offered by the next-highest bidder), and now plan to build what opponents call a “monstrous” complex of 1,000 rooms. The investors have shown some willingness to back down from their project, in exchange for compensation.
Haaretz environment correspondent Tzafrir Rinat writes that the Cabinet decision is a precedent that requires the State to review all similar plans that were drawn up 15 years ago and may now, given the new approach to nature and natural resources such as beachfront, be obsolete.
Other beachfront plans that might now be changed include a hotel complex that has been approved near Nitzanim, north of Ashkelon, and high-rise towers that have been approved – and drawn much public criticism – at the Carmel Beach in Haifa.
Israel has fewer than 200 kilometers of beach along the Mediterranean. Nearly 50 of them are closed off by the army, and another 50 are city-run with built-up properties somewhat off the coast. Only 40 are considered to be open beaches with no homes, hotels or other structures behind them – most of these in central Israel.