The Finance Ministry has reached a deal with industrialists to rehabilitate the Dead Sea, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz announced in an interview with state-run Voice of Israel radio.
Steinitz signed the deal with Israel Corporation (Dead Sea Works) chairman Amir Elstein Tuesday night.
Under the proposal, mineral salt that is rising from beneath the surface of the lake's waters will be harvested and ground up for use in manufacturing.
The government will pay 10 percent of the cost of the salt harvesting in the lake's southern basin. Israel Corporation subsidiary Israel Chemicals Ltd. will pay the remaining 90 percent, totaling some NIS 3.04 billion.
Royalties on potash sales will double to 10 percent as well, reaching an annual sum of approximately NIS 3 billion or more, and would go to the Dead Sea Fund.
A number of different initiatives have been advanced in the Knesset in recent months due to concerns that time is running out for the unique body of water, located in the lowest place on Earth. In the northern part of the mineral lake, the waters are drying up. In the southern basin, the waters are rising, as salt from below appears to push the water level up.
Not everyone is happy about this deal, however.
Labor leader Shelly Yechimovich said the Finance Ministry had been strong-armed by the industrialists, pointing out, "Raising royalties to 10 percent was already in the law. No consent was required from ICL."
Moreover, she added, "It's a ridiculous rate on royalties for a natural resource that really belongs to the general public in the first place."
The environmentalist advocacy group Friends of the Earth - Middle East has slammed the agreement. Gideon Bromberg, the group's director-general, said in a statement, "The agreement between the Treasury and tycoons will not save the Dead Sea."
Bromberg instead demanded the government support a proposal by MK Dov Henin, (HADASH) Chairman of the Knesset Joint Committee for Environment and Health, to restore the lake through other means and establish a second Sheshinski Commission. Henin himself also has opposed the agreement, contending, “Financial considerations must not supersede environmental ones. The agreement will promote more pumping from the rapidly diminishing Dead Sea, and it is gradually being dried up.”