Given the rapid rate of development in Israel, the focus of environmental policy has always been on prevention rather than treatment. Since the early 1970s, attention has been focused on the incorporation of environmental considerations into all major development projects to ensure a path of sustainability. Environmental evaluation and assessment were introduced into planning at the national, regional and local levels, and a system of environmental impact statements was established for checking the environmental impacts of specific detailed plans and proposals. Consequently, Israel has successfully implemented policies for sustainable development within the planning process.

The Administrative Framework for Land-Use Planning

In developing its environmental management program, Israel used the land-use planning system established under the Planning and Building Law of 1965. The law establishes a comprehensive legislative framework which regulates all building and land-use activities in Israel, public and private, within a three-level hierarchy: national, district and local.

At the top level of national planning is the National Planning and Building Board (the National Board), chaired by the director-general of the Ministry of the Interior, and composed of representatives of government ministries, local government, and public and professional organizations, including nature protection bodies. The National Board provides a broad and extensive forum for deliberation by all concerned bodies. Discussion at this level allows for the mobilization of professional input and expertise, representing many disciplines. The Ministry of the Environment is a member of the National Board and participates in many of its subcommittees.

The primary responsibilities of the National Planning and Building Board are to enact national outline schemes, review regional outline plans and serve as an appeal board for decisions of the District Planning and Building Commissions. National outline schemes (mostly sectorial masterplans which lay down the planning structure for the entire area of the country) are prepared for issues of national planning significance or for land uses that serve national interests. Initially, the outline schemes are commissioned by the National Board; upon completion they are submitted to the government for approval. Once approved and announced in the official gazette, they have the status of legally binding plans.

The national level of the hierarchy also includes two additional statutory committees: the Agricultural Lands Committee, responsible for protecting lands of agricultural value and minimizing the loss of agricultural land to building, and the Territorial Waters Committee (in which the Ministry of the Environment is a member), responsible for approval of all offshore structures. No plan or building permit regulating agricultural lands or offshore projects may be endorsed without prior approval of these committees.

The regional level of the planning hierarchy is the responsibility of six District Planning and Building Commissions. The District Commissions are composed of regional representatives of government ministries, including representatives of the Ministry of the Environment and representatives of local authorities within the district.

District Commissions serve as links between national planning and local implementation. They receive the national outline schemes for comment, prepare their regional outline schemes for approval by the National Board and assess plans submitted to them by the local level of the hierarchy. Israel’s six districts have comprehensive regional plans (district outline schemes), either approved or in preparation. The objectives of these schemes are to determine the details necessary for the implementation of national outline schemes in each district, and to identify matters which are of general importance to the district (e.g. sites for urban development, industrial development, waste disposal, open spaces for protection and for recreation).

The local level consists of about a hundred Local Planning and Building Commissions, serving one or more local authorities and composed of the elected members of the municipal councils. The Local Commissions prepare outline and detailed schemes for their areas, showing planned land use allocations, and submit them for approval to the District Commissions. Local schemes set out conditions for land and building use in local areas in order to ensure, inter alia, appropriate levels of health, welfare and cleanliness, abate nuisances, preserve historical buildings, and protect and develop sites important from the point of view of nature and beauty. Such conditions may include regulations with regard to building density, setbacks, roads, etc. The Local Commissions are also responsible for decisions on development applications, building permits and action against illegal building.

Environmental Management in Land-Use Planning

For the past two decades, Israel has utilized the land use planning system as an effective framework for implementing environmental policy. The incorporation of environmental considerations into the physical planning system began in the early 1970s with the introduction of one environmental advisor to the National Planning and Building Board. Today, twenty planners represent the Minister of the Environment at the national and regional levels of planning, while on the local level, environmental planners actively participate in an advisory capacity in the deliberations of Local Commissions.

Most of the ongoing day to day integration of environmental considerations in the planning process is achieved by the participation of these environmental planners at the national and district level planning authorities, and increasingly at the local level as well. In large measure, due to their advice, outline schemes at the national, district and local levels now incorporate resource evaluation, technologically feasible alternatives and environmental impact assessment.