12/26/2011 01:45

Tourism, environmental protection ministers warn that company may increase production if royalties remain at 10%.
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Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz threatened on Sunday to establish a committee to examine the state’s shares from Dead Sea quarrying if Israel Chemicals unit Dead Sea Works does not respond positively to a government proposal on salt harvesting.

The government must receive a response to its proposal by midnight Tuesday; otherwise, it will establish “a second Sheshinski Committee,” Steinitz said. The first Sheshinski Committee, whose recommendations became law in March, increased the state’s share of gas and oil revenues to figures ranging between 52 and 62 percent, depending on the case. The state previously held a one-third share in those revenues.

The Knesset approved preliminary readings of two Dead Sea-related bills last week. The first would authorize a full salt harvest of the sea’s southern portion, charging 90% of the cost to Dead Sea Works and the remaining 10% to the Finance Ministry. The second would increase the state’s share of Dead Sea Works sales from 5% to 10%, with the extra royalties to be designated to a fund for the sea’s rehabilitation.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan and Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov jointly sent a letter to Steinitz on Sunday expressing “satisfaction” but “wonder” at the Finance Ministry’s stance on negotiations with Israel Chemicals.

During initial discussions about the harvest, both Erdan and Misezhnikov expressed their opposition to the ministry’s initial suggestion that the company bear no more than 50% of the cost, arguing that the plant must pay most of the total sum.

They said in the letter than they find it “very strange” that the Treasury is now taking pride in the decision to impose 90% of the cost on Dead Sea Works, when just six months ago it had been attacking the two ministers for their positions.

Erdan and Misezhnikov also stressed that they do not see a significant achievement in the decision to raise Dead Sea Works’ royalties from 5% to 10%, and that they do not see the current plan as a long-term solution. With royalties remaining only at 10%, they said, the company will perhaps be encouraged to increase production – even at the expense of the dwindling northern basin. Emphasizing what an important natural resource the Dead Sea is to the environment, the economy and tourism, the ministers wrote that the government must do everything that it can to preserve its uniqueness for future generations.