FROM THE INCOMING DIRECTOR GENERAL, DR. ISRAEL PELEG
Dr. Israel Peleg served as Consul General of Israel for the mid- Atlantic states until his recent appointment as director general of the Ministry of the Environment. Previously, he served as director of the Government Press Office from 1984 to 1987 and as a member of the Board of Governors of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Dr. Peleg holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Mass Communication and a B.A. in Political Science.
Shortly following his appointment, Dr. Peleg provided the following interview to the Israel Environment Bulletin:
Shoshana Gabbay: Your entrance into Israel’s Ministry of the Environment coincides with the advent of a new era of environmental concern, an era recently launched at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. At this time, what are your hopes and expectations from the ministry?
Dr. Israel Peleg: My initial weeks in the Ministry of the Environment have been dedicated to careful study of the environmental issues facing Israel, nationally, regionally and globally. While there is much that I still have to learn, I am fortunate to be surrounded by an excellent and dedicated staff of professionals, for whom environmental work constitutes a mission, not merely a vocation. In just a few years, this young ministry has managed to effect major changes in environmental quality in this country. Yet much more needs to be done.
I believe that the appointment of Ms. Ora Namir as Israel’s new Minister of the Environment will make a real difference in the way our government and our people relate to the environment. It is no secret that successive governments have been largely apathetic to environmental issues, but I am convinced that the energy and hard work which have characterised Minister Namir in all her past endeavors, will make a real difference. Our challenge today is to further upgrade the environment to a high priority issue on the public and the political agendas.
S.G.: From the vantage point of your previous experience as Israel’s Consul-General in Philadelphia and head of the Government Press Office, what are your goals as director general of the Ministry of the Environment?
I.P.: My background in communications and in the diplomatic arena has underlined the importance of education and information, cooperation and collaboration both on the national and international fronts. We are living through times of rapid and dramatic change and modern communication accelerates the pace of worldwide developments. These dramatic times, in Israel and worldwide, present us with both challenges and opportunities.
For example, the welcome influx of immigrants into Israel from places as far flung as Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, and their absorption into modern Israeli society has presented us with a major challenge: providing each new immigrant with a proper roof over his head and accelerating the pace of development so as to provide each newcomer with employment opportunities as welland all this while taking care not to damage precious environmental resources.
We are living in a world that is becoming more and more interdependent. Today, more than ever, strategies of international cooperation must be developed to ensure vital development needs for all nations without further destruction of the environment. International cooperation will become increasingly important in safeguarding global resources, for we have learned, the hard way, that the environment knows no borders. It is our responsibility to take an active part in national, regional and international efforts to solve shared environmental problems.
Perhaps our greatest opportunity lies within the framework of the peace process. Our region is especially sensitive to transboundary pollution and therefore regional cooperation, within such frameworks as the multilateral peace talks on the environment, will certainly facilitate our ability to address shared environmental problems for the wellbeing of all the people in this region.
Over the past decade, the general media in every Western country has played a major role in placing environmental concerns at the forefront of national concern. The international environmental reawakening, at the highest political echelons, has and will continue to have an impact on Israel. There is certainly a significant increase in public activism on behalf of the environment, and this process has been enhanced by the general media. Newspapers and the electronic media alikeall cover environmental stories on a regular basis. I hope to use my past experience to further raise consciousness of the environmental issue, both among the general public and among decision makers.
S.G.: What do you see as the major challenges facing the Ministry of the Environment in the coming few years?
I.P.: The symbols of affluence in modern societyprivate cars, electricity, chemicals, pesticideshave already placed major stress on our environment. The anticipated growth in population and industrial production in Israel in the coming years will present us with additional challenges. But I am convinced that the challenges, great as they are, are not insurmountable.
As I mentioned earlier, we must redouble our efforts to accord the environmental issue the priority it deserves in government and among the general public. There must be a major reorientation in government vis a vis the management of water, land, and air. Israel has developed a good system of environmental management. Now is the time to translate our principles into action. To do this, we will require increased budgetary allocations, better enforcement, and innovative means of interacting with and educating the public. Perhaps more than anything, we will invest extra effort in disseminating in our people an environmental code of ethic, for I believe that the key to sustainable development lies in awareness and education.
The major elements in our environmental program are an aware and active public, increased cooperation with the public and industrial sectors, better collaboration with local authorities and other organizations, and the allocation of sufficient funds to effectively tackle major environmental problems. I look forward to contributing my share to bring about these changes.