At a conference entitled "The Sea as an Economic Resource," Shimon Peres says Israel should stop investing in Jude and Samaria and build artificial islands in the Mediterranean instead.

The conference, which opened yesterday (Wednesday) in the seaside town of
Mikhmoret, north of Netanya, deals with "opportunities and threats presented by the sea." Topics on the agenda include pollution of the sea and coasts, the economic potential of the sea for Israel, and more. The conference is sponsored by the Ruppin Academic Center.

In his remarks, Vice Premier Shimon Peres said, "The State of Israel has a narrow waistline [less than ten miles between Netanya and Tul Karem, for instance - ed.]...
Israel has invested some 60 billion shekels in the territories [Judea, Samaria and Gaza]. Instead of this, we must invest in the sea, and stretch our western border in that direction by building artificial islands."

It was Peres who, as Minister of Defense in the mid-1970's, approved the establishment of the first Jewish communities, Kedumim and Elkanah, in
Samaria. He has since become very anti-settlement.

Some view with irony his remarks about investing in the sea, especially in light of his well-known position in favor of a New Middle East and well-known Arab threats to throw the Jews into the sea.

Peres' support for artificial islands, though not a lone voice, is also controversial. Plans to build an international airport a quarter-mile offshore from north Tel Aviv are currently being discussed by an inter-ministerial committee. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Transportation Minister Sha'ul Mofaz recently agreed to proceed with plans on between one and five such islands along the central Israel coast between Bat Yam and Netanya as a way of alleviating central Israel's land shortage problem.

However, environmental groups such as the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED) say that the idea gravely threatens the future of
Israel's tranquil Mediterranean waters and sandy beaches. "Before the airport-island scheme gains irreversible momentum," IUED urges "full exploration of terrestrial alternatives, including direct development costs, environmental impacts, and feasibility of rail transport links to population centers."

Other participants at the Mikhmoret conference include water industry experts, environmentalists, and more. Conference Chairman Buki Oren, a former Chairman of Israel's official Mekorot Water Company, said, "There is enough water in the world to supply all its needs; the challenge is to know how to use it wisely and develop appropriate technologies." He said that
Israel must take the lead in raising international awareness regarding the use and preservation of water resources.

Environmentalist businessman Morris Kahn had criticism both for companies that pollute and for the Environment Ministry's lackluster efforts to enforce ecological regulations. "Personal responsibility must be imposed on companies and their directors that pollute the environment and the sea," Kahn said. He added that the Minister of Environment is frequently a politician who never really wanted the job in the first place, noting that the late Yehudit Naot of Shinui was an exception to this rule.