Cablegate: Israel Passes Strong New Environmental Legislation


DE RUEHTV #1845/01 2341026
R 211026Z AUG 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

Ref: (A) Tel Aviv 195 (B)Tel Aviv 613

1. (U) SUMMARY. During the legislative session that concluded in
July, Israel's parliament (Knesset) passed several new laws
significantly strengthening environmental regulation. These
included a Clean Air Act, a "Polluter Pays" law, and a stronger
enforcement law. Israel's business, academic and NGO communities
all hailed the measures as positive, despite the costs they will
likely impose. The government's ability to protect the environment
and prosecute infractions will be much stronger once the laws are
fully implemented. Implementation will be essential to Israel's
accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD), and may be the greatest hurdle the GOI will face
in joining the OECD. Securing the resources and budget to implement
the new measures will be a challenge, as will moving the Israeli
population toward a more environmentalist perspective supporting
such action. End Summary.

Years in the Making
2. (U) In a fit of activism in the final weeks of its legislative
session, the Knesset approved several notable laws that greatly
strengthened environmental protection in Israel. On July 22,
Israel's first Clean Air Law was passed. First introduced in 2005,
the new law will revolutionize how air quality hazards are dealt
with in Israel. The law adds teeth to the Ministry for
Environmental Protection (MEP) capabilities, including setting
emissions standards, controlling vehicular pollution, and monitoring
air quality. The law requires the 150 most polluting corporations
to apply for permits (for a fee) from the MEP for their emissions;
this is supposed to enable the GOI to press for reductions over
time, and encourage the introduction of the best available
environmental technology by companies. The MEP is also required to
formulate a national plan for reduction of air pollution.

3. (U) Although Israel's Clean Air Act will not come into effect
until January 2011, it legitimates and better structures activities
the GOI is already undertaking. Environment Minister Gideon Ezra
had, in fact, lobbied against the legislation in previous weeks, not
wanting to see the Ministry take on obligations far beyond its
resources to implement. He endorsed the law once its passage
appeared inevitable, however. One Ministry official acknowledged to
the media that the institution will need billions of shekels and 34
more professional staff to handle the increased responsibilities,
such as issuing permits.

4. (U) Separately, on July 30, the Knesset unanimously passed a law
detailing a list of new penalties and financial sanctions against
businesses found guilty of environmental law infractions. The
"Polluter Pays" legislation allows fines up to 300,000 shekels (USD
86,000) for individuals and 2.4 million shekels (USD 686 million)
for corporations that pollute. Most important, it imposes the
requirement that the polluter restore the environment to the status
quo ante, and can levy a fine equal to the economic advantage the
polluter gained through his or her infraction. Where polluters fail
to correct the situation, the government can address the damage,
such as an oil spill, and charge the polluter double the cost of

5. (U) The Knesset also approved an Environmental Enforcement Law.
Heretofore, only the central government had the authority to enforce
most environmental laws, and it also collected the associated fines
from offenders. Under the new law, local authorities will now be
authorized to enforce these laws, and the income they receive from
the associated fines will serve as an incentive to strongly enforce
environmental laws within their jurisdictions. Bills discouraging
use of plastic bags, reducing water use, and saving energy in
government buildings also passed the first reading in the chamber,
though are not yet final. Knesset members claimed that this was the
"greenest" Knesset ever, approving more environmental legislation
than in the previous 60 years of Israel's parliament.

Supported By Many Sides
6. (U) Despite the far-reaching impact of these new laws, they were
adopted with solid support across the business, academic, and NGO
communities. Although Israel's national Green party is not
represented in the Knesset, several Knesset members (MKs) are
nationally known for their strong environmental stands. Dov Khenin
(Hadash - Arab/Jewish left wing party) and Michael Melchior
(Labor-Meimad) often reflect environment lobby views, and were among
the 19 MKs who signed on as sponsors of the polluter pays law, and
the fact it was unanimously approved by the body indicates broad
support for the bill. The NGO community had spent years encouraging
such legislation; the Clear Air Law was actually drafted with the
help of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, the country's
leading environmental NGO. The Union's Executive Director, while
very pleased with legislative outcome of the session, cautioned that
implementation of the new laws would be the critical test of
commitment by parliament.

7. (SBU) Arie Nesher, Director of Tel Aviv University's School of
Environmental Studies called the legislation a good sign of change
in Israeli society's environmental consciousness. Regarding
environmental problems, he noted, Israel faces problems that cannot
be dealt with in isolation; pollution and global warming require
coordinated international action. Nonetheless, he said, Israel is
still dominated by tactical, short-term thinking, and rarely takes a
long-term view with strategic objectives in mind. The test would be
getting the funds to fully implement the provisions of the new
legislation. The business sector response to the raft of
environmental legislation was positive, perhaps because of the
long-term program perspective the new laws promote. A spokesman for
the Manufacturers Association of Israel supported the Clean Air
bill, while acknowledging it will impose costs. "It won't be easy,
but it's important that we have a timetable that will allow us to
prepare. We need a planning horizon so we'll know what demands are
being made and how to prepare for them."

The Crucial Test: Money
8. (SBU) Comment: The bottom line assessment of any legislation is
its application, and all sides in Israel reserve judgment on this
score. Ministry of Foreign Affairs Economic contacts tell us that
finding the money and staff to be fully compliant with environmental
standards will be Israel's greatest challenge in acceding to the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Given the
pre-eminence the GOI traditionally places on defense issues, and the
rebuke the Finance Minister has garnered for the marginal cuts he
proposed in the 2009 government budget presented August 17, it is
hard to envision the Knesset doling out the funds needed to fully
implement all the environmental legislation newly passed. Israeli
society, too, is less aware of environmental issues, and has not
shown great will to pay for them; the GOI has had to undertake a
major awareness campaign to sensitize the public to the current
water shortage, for example. Nonetheless, Israel has a small but
vocal and growing constituency demanding environmental protection.
When it reconvenes in October, the Knesset budget debate may cast a
long shadow on Israel's future ability to address its environmental


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