Israel Environment Bulletin Summer 1992-5752, Vol. 15, No. 3


Few countries have experienced the demographic trends which have been characteristic of Israel in recent yearsa massive influx of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, increasing the population by 10%. The ingathering of some 400,000 new immigrants between 1989- 1991 and the potential for continued growth, presents Israel with both a challenge and an opportunity. Immigration combined with natural growth can increase the country’s population from about five million to six million by 1995, a 20% increase.

Yet, the welcome wave of immigration to Israel has been replete with difficulties as well. The need to present each new immigrant with proper housing and employment has led to an accelerated pace of building and development, threatening to place an increased burden on all resources and to aggravate environmental conditions. To coordinate planning efforts by all sectors of government, the National Planning and Building Board commissioned a comprehensive National Outline Scheme for Immigrant Absorption in June 1990. This represented the first time that various subjects, previously addressed within the framework of sectorial masterplans, were integrated within one outline scheme.

Principle Features of the Masterplan

The four-volume blueprint for Israel’s development over the coming few yearsformally approved by the National Planning and Building Board in August 1992set out to formulate policy and consolidate a comprehensive planning strategy for building and immigrant absorption. Its specific objectives included:

  • to review alternatives for population dispersal, with special emphasis on Jerusalem, the Galilee and the Negev.
  • to integrate residential systems with employment systems.
  • to coordinate infrastructure development and guidance of local authorities in the preparation of detailed plans for immigrant absorption.
  • to preserve land reserves and natural and landscape resources and to protect the environment.

The masterplan is based on the following general principles: maximal utilization of the existing potential for residential building, employment, services and infrastructure, in the short term; creation of appropriate conditions for quick economic growth; preferential investment in infrastructure and employment, rather than in residential building; development of the necessary conditions to implement the government’s population dispersal policy by granting peripheral areas high priority development status with regard to investments in infrastructure, employment and services; and the implementation of an integrative planning approach ensuring environmental protection, on the one hand, and economic development, on the other.

The plan divides the country into four planning areas based on four major metropolitan centersHaifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beershebaand is based on a dynamic development strategy. In the first stage, most of the development will be directed to the central region where employment opportunities are already available, and only later would the emphasis shift to development in peripheral areas, most notably, Beersheba and the southern region. Accordingly, the population in the southern region is slated to increase from 573,600 in 1991 (representing some 11.9% of the total population) to over 900,000 in 1995 (representing about 14.7% of the national total).

The masterplan accords top priority to the following principles for development:

  • development of an infrastructure of public transportation and integration of public transport systems with employment and residential centers;
  • development of systems for wastewater treatment and reuse, and the incorporation of basic infrastructures, including roads, water, drainage, electricity and wastewater collection, treatment and disposal, in plans for urban and rural centers;
  • development of interurban industrial parksessential to increase employment possibilities for new immigrantsand inclusion of pollution mitigation plans and regulations for environmental protection.
  • implementation of a national policy to improve quality of life and quality of the environment, based on:
    – prevention of exposure of additional populations to nuisances and environmental hazards;
    – development of employment in existing and new centers while undertaking means for the prevention of water pollution, air pollution, noise and other environmental hazards;
    – elimination of environmental nuisances in the periphery, so as to increase the attractiveness of peripheral areas to new populations and to new employment opportunities.
  • preservation of the rural character of open, agricultural areas;
  • protection of open space landscapes with high natural and landscape values, in addition to areas designated for nature reserves, national parks and landscape reserves.
  • special emphasis on the coastal strip to prevent urban sprawl in the central region and to ensure the existence of "green lungs" and open landscape areas for recreation and tourism.

The Environmental Components of the Plan

It is to Israel’s credit that despite the flurry of planning and building, planners recognized the danger of irreparable damage to both environmental quality and natural resources which could result from hasty decision-making. Normally, environmental management tools are based on the slow, careful and detailed analysis of resource sensitivity and carrying capacity and on the assessment of the potential environmental impact of development proposals. However, under conditions of rapid development, decisions have to be taken under severe time pressures on the basis of existing expertise and experience. Under these difficult conditions, it is especially noteworthy that the Immigration Plan includes substantial environmental management and resource protection measures. Environmental quality was recognized as a key component of the plan throughout all the stages of its preparation. In fact, an environmental guidelines map accompanies the plan as a statutory document.

In the first phase of plan preparation, it was decided that due to time constraints, a map showing the constraints and restrictions on residential development would be prepared. The constraints and restrictions map is based on various sources of data including the Geographic Information System of the Ministry of the Environment, a survey of open space landscapes (described in a separate article in this Bulletin) and data collected by the district offices of the Ministry of the Environment.

The constraints and restrictions map, at a scale of 1:100,000, is designated to guide planning commissions and the emergency building committees set up to expedite the planning and building process. Based on an evaluation of the sensitivity of areas to development, the map establishes areas appropriate for residential development and sets priorities for such land uses as wastewater purification sites and open spaces for recreation.

The map designates two types of areas: areas in which building should not be undertaken (constraints), and areas which may be built and developed on condition steps are undertaken to prevent or minimize environmental damages (restrictions).

Constraint areas include the following:

  • areas exposed to environmental degradation by quarries, solid waste disposal sites, hazardous materials, airports, roads and railroads; and
  • critical areas for the protection of natural and landscape resources including nature reserves, national parks, impoundment, recharge and pumping areas and landscapes of high value (as defined in a survey conducted by Israel’s nature and environmental protection bodies).

    Restricted areas include the following:

    o areas sensitive from the point of view of groundwater protection; areas designated for resource protection such as the Kinneret watershed basin; areas of landscape value; and areas including structures or settlements with special importance to Israel’s historic and cultural heritage.

    One of the new terms which emerged during the course of map preparation was that of the open space rural landscape. Preservation of agricultural land has traditionally been one of the foundation stones of Israeli planning, receiving first priority over any other land-use in the Planning and Building Law of 1965. In fact, most of the open spaces in Israel have been declared agricultural land and their conversion into other uses requires the agreement of the Agricultural Land Protection Committee.

    While the economic justification for the preservation of agricultural land has weakened over the years, the need to protect rural open space as "green lungs" and for recreational purposes has strengthened. The emerging awareness of the importance of rural landscape conservation is reflected in the masterplan, where, for the first time, statutory backing is given to open space landscapes in recognition of their value as open spaces, rather than agricultural lands. The masterplan differentiates between two basic landscape groups:

    a. the traditional natural landscape, slated for preservation in its current state, or subject to restricted development for recreation, tourism and leisure activity; and
    b. the rural landscape, subject to development on condition such development does not change its visual features from a pastoral open landscape to a built-up urban landscape.

    The plan’s regulations restrict expansion plans for rural settlements and make the expansion of rural settlements in sensitive areas subject to environmental assessment. Expansion is only permitted within the boundaries of the settlement, taking into account the need to preserve land reserves.

    Environmental Regulations

    The regulations proposed within the framework of the environmental guidelines map give strong emphasis to environmental managment principles. They include:

    1. Development in areas with high natural and landscape values is prohibited except for recreation and tourism. Transfer of essential infrastructures, such as pipelines and electricity and telephone lines, through these areas is subject to landscape guidelines. Expansion of rural settlements is subject to environmental assessment procedures.

    2. Plans liable to damage groundwater quality will not be approved in areas identified as sensitive in terms of water resources

    (aquifers and surface waters). Residential plans must include plans for the construction and implementation of sewage systems.

    3. Any activity which threatens to obstruct possibilities of water recharge to groundwater or impoundment of runoff water in areas designated for these operations is prohibited.

    4. Plans in the Kinneret watershed basin, which threaten to damage the quality of the Sea of Galilee’s water, will not be approved.

    5. Construction for residential and other sensitive areas in areas exposed to aircraft noise will be based on guidelines issued by the National Planning and Building Board. Plans for 100 or more residential units in areas exposed to high levels of noise, will require environmental impact assessment.

    6. In areas exposed to nuisances, including waste disposal sites and quarries, residential and other land-use plans will be subject to strict review.

    7. Approval for land uses (e.g. residential, commercial and entertainment) will be withheld in areas exposed to risks from hazardous substances, pending an environmental risk assessment survey.

    Israel’s experience during a period of rapid development demonstrates that where frameworks for the incorporation of environmental considerations already exist, those frameworks can respond to emergency needs. One of the challenges of the future will be to change the focus of planning in areas exposed to pollution from policies imposing constraints on residential and industrial development to policies where the polluter will be required to pay the price of the constraints, and would, consequently, take action to reduce the area exposed to high levels of pollution. These and other environmental issues will receive special attention in the long-term plan for "Israel 2000" now in preparation.