Labor, Tzipi Livni Party, Meretz slam PM for privatizing public land; 75% of Israelis say environmental issues essential to quality of life.

As the country’s leading parties spar over two-state solutions and who must serve in the army, one issue that nearly all have declared crucial to the state’s survival is environmental protection.

Whether written words vowing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect biodiversity will translate into action in the next Knesset’s policies and legislation, however, remains to be seen.

In anticipation of the election, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel conducted a survey through via the Geo-cartography firm gauging the importance of environmental issues to the public as they head to the polls.

Of the approximately 500 people surveyed of all ages and genders throughout Israel, 75 percent deemed environmental issues essential to the quality of their lives and 71% felt that it was critical that Knesset candidates have environmental agendas.

While 31% of those polled said they did not know who should be the next environment ministry, 25% said they believed current Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud Beytenu) would be best for the job, with the next closest candidate being MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) – at 6.5%.

Looking particularly at the country’s water sector, most of the parties supported increased treatment of wastewater for various uses, particularly in agriculture.

In addition to the sewage purification systems, Likud Beytenu advocated building more desalination plants and continuing to restore the nation’s streams and rivers.

The Labor Party and Meretz called water a “fundamental human right,” while The Tzipi Livni party extended that claim by calling for basic legislation deeming environmental quality every person’s right.

The Labor Party said it would be encouraging water conservation, leak prevention, runoff collection, reuse of water and greywater usage, while Meretz advocated stricter supervision of sewage, legislation for greywater and a decrease in power of the municipal water corporations.

In addition to touting most of the above, The Tzipi Livni Party also called for higher taxes on excessive water use and expanded research for water technologies.

Likewise promoting greywater use and increased water technology research, Yesh Atid also called for new pipe infrastructure to convey treated wastewater to agriculture and rivers. While promoting the revival of previous flows in the entire country’s streams, Bayit Yehudi said it would also specifically target polluted waters in Judea and Samaria, while building rainwater collection reservoirs and a sewage treatment facility there.

In the energy sector, one hot-button issue among the parties is the export of natural gas. While Likud Beytenu did not provide an official position on this issue in its platform, the Zemach Committee plan supported by the current administration calls for exporting about 57% of the country’s natural gas reserves, leaving 450 million cubic meters of gas for the domestic market, enough to supply the country with gas for the next 25 years, according to committee estimations.

Yesh Atid vehemently opposed the committee’s conclusions as well as the export of natural gas in general, charging that the committee overestimated the reserves and that a new solid estimation process should occur.

“Yesh Atid recognizes that the natural gas is a one-time gift from nature and a source of national security,” a statement from the party said. “It is not infinite, it is not renewable and it is not fully mapped out.”

Meretz opposed the export of any natural gas, while The Tzipi Livni Party and Labor called for only a very minimal amount of export.

While Bayit Yehudi did not specifically comment on the export issue, the party said that it would advocate expanded usage of natural gas in transportation and in homes as a means to ensure energy independence.

The major parties nearly unanimously supported the advancement of renewable energy in the electricity market, with most stressing a need to reduce fossil fuel emissions, increase energy efficiency and encourage research of new technologies.

Aiming to move up the government’s goals of 10% renewables by 2020, The Tzipi Livni Party said that it hoped to achieve 10% by 2017 and 20% by 2020, and establish an energy master plan for the next 50 years.

While Meretz maintained the 10% by 2020 goal, the party set a slower goal of 20% by 2030 and demanded the termination of the Shfela basin oil shale project.

Yesh Atid stressed a need for decentralized medium-sized solar energy plants, while Labor promoted the integration of electricity smart grids.

Likud Beytenu, Labor, The Tzipi Livni Party, Yesh Atid and Meretz all advocated some form of a “polluter pays” principle in the air pollution sector.

Meretz also called for the deployment of more advanced air monitoring systems, while Yesh Atid suggested growing more plants in urban centers, to naturally absorb more of the air pollution.

The Tzipi Livni Party committed to fully implementing the National Air Pollution Prevention Plan within four years to meet targets of the Clean Air Law, and Labor advocated a similar plan while also favoring criminal charges against noncompliant polluters.

In the garbage sector, Likud Beytenu called for the further treatment of solid waste and hazardous substances and emphasized the success of the current administration initiating “precedent-setting environmental legislation” on waste issues – the Packaging Law, electronic waste legislation, recycling policies and asbestos removal.

Stressing that Israel is still second in the world in per capita garbage production, however, Yesh Atid warned that quantities of trash in landfills must yet be reduced. The Tzipi Livni Party aimed to accelerate the rate of recycling and reduce the concentration of hazardous materials in city centers, while Meretz pushed for the prohibition of plastic bags from supermarkets and better hazardous waste treatment.

In addition to changing recycling from voluntary to mandatory, Labor called for the passage of a Polluted Lands Rehabilitation Law as well as waste sorting facilities all over every municipality.

Nearly all the major parties said that expanding the public transportation system into a more efficient, user-friendly mode of travel would be a top priority of their platforms.

The Tzipi Livni Party, Meretz and Yesh Atid all specifically vowed to increase cycling paths throughout the country through various initiatives, while Meretz also advocated the development of metropolitan transit authorities and a National Road Safety Authority independent from the Transportation Ministry.

Yesh Atid urged the adoption of alternative fuels like biodiesel and bioethanol as well as investments in new light rails and bus rapid transit (BRT) systems. Bayit Yehudi also called for progressive taxing on vehicles according to pollution rate.

Increased animal rights were particular concerns of the Labor Party, Yesh Atid and Meretz and The Tzipi Livni Party, with the latter demanding the transfer of animal welfare authority from the Agriculture Ministry to the Environment Ministry.

Meretz and Yesh Atid also called for widespread sterilization of street cats, increased shelters for animals and bans on experimentation for cosmetics, while Meretz promoted a prohibition on hunting, fur and chicken battery cages.

As far as the preservation of the country’s nature and open spaces goes, most of the parties supported keeping beaches accessible to the public, with Likud Beytenu placing emphasis as well on protecting the coastal cliffs.

Likud Beytenu, Labor, Meretz, Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid all specifically promoted increased rehabilitation and decreased exploitation of the Dead Sea.

The Tzipi Livni Party ordered the declaration of 100,000 hectares of land to become nature reserves, while both this party and Bayit Yehudi also called for an amendment to the Coast Law that prohibits beach building even in previously approved projects.

The Likud Beytenu hailed the Netanyahu administration’s successes in bringing an “environmental outlook” to the forefront of the government, particularly noting the passage of green growth policies and programs to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“There has been no government that has acted for environmental preservation as the current government has,” a statement from the party said.

Most of the other parties took a stab at Likud Beytenu, however, with Labor, Meretz and The Tzipi Livni Party all slamming the administration for continually “privatizing” public land and open spaces and pushing forward a faulty planning and building reform that would delegitimize local planning.

Bayit Yehudi agreed that privatization of such land should not occur and that only government authorities should administer natural spaces.

“The Labor Party places a central emphasis on sustainability and environment, which appears widely throughout the party platform,” said a statement from the Labor Party for The Jerusalem Post.

“The upcoming Knesset will be active in advancing these major issues, which have been damaged in part due to the privatization of land and natural resources in Israel.”

“At the end of the day, in my opinion, looking the past is more important than platforms,” Mossi Raz, of Meretz, told the Post.

Examining the environmental platforms of Meretz, Yesh Atid, Labor and The Tzipi Livni Party, Raz agreed that the platforms are, in fact, intrinsically similar.

“I think the differences between us and them are not in the environment issues,” he said.

Prof. Alon Tal, chairman of the Green Movement and No. 13 on The Tzipi Livni Party list, told the Post that his party’s environmentalism does, however, diverge from that of Meretz, Yesh Atid and Labor.

“Each line in our platform is based in position papers that he have from the Green Movement, from 40 professors and experts on these issues,” Tal said. “And [The Tzipi Livni Party] is the only party that brings in someone whose essential purpose in coming to the Knesset is promoting environmental issues.”

Lacking a comprehensive environmental platform, another major party, Shas, called on its website for preserving nature and landscapes as a crucial element of maintaining the land’s holiness, as well as limiting industries and construction that harm or pollute nature. Shas did not respond to requests from the Post for a more detailed version of its environmental policies.