In suspending planned neighborhood, Uri Ariel cites desire to prevent damage to ‘unique landscape’ of the Negev.
By Zafrir Rinat | Feb. 27, 2014 |

Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel this week suspended a plan to build a residential neighborhood on the edge of the Makhtesh Ramon crater, because it would damage the region’s unique landscape.

The move is seen as a triumph for environmental organizations, who fought against the building plan.

The crater area was earmarked for construction as early as the 1990s as part of numerous plans to provide housing for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to Israel from the former Soviet Union during the decade.

The plan was not carried out, but in recent years the Housing Ministry decided to build a neighborhood in the area. The Society for Protection of Nature in Israel and Mitzpeh Ramon residents launched a campaign against the plan, saying the area had enough land reserves and there was no need to build on the edge of the crater. People in Mitzpeh Ramon also feared that tourism to the region would be harmed by development.

The protests and campaigns failed and the planning and construction authorities continued to advance and approve the plans. Two and a half years ago, the National Planning Commission approved taking 8.5 dunams from the crater’s nature reserve and annexing it to the area of the future neighborhood, dubbed Har Gamal.

About six months ago, the Southern District’s planning and constructing committee began the final stage of approving the plan. The Society for Protection of Nature in Israel submitted an objection to the plan but chances of stopping the move seemed hopeless.

Last week, Ariel toured Mitzpeh Ramon and met people from the Society for Protection of Nature and heard their objections to the building plan. After the tour and the meeting, he decided to suspend the construction in the area.

“Alongside the need to provide housing solutions nationwide, we cannot ignore the damage to important and valuable nature assets,” Ariel said yesterday.

“The Har Gamal neighborhood threatened to damage to one of the most beautiful places in Israel. That’s why I ordered to freeze any further marketing of apartments planned there. I intend to act with the Mitzpeh Ramon Council to find housing solutions without harming nature and tourism sites,” he said.

The Society for Protection of Nature commended Ariel’s decision. It said the view from the cliff of the Ramon Crater is “a national asset of the first degree and has no equal in the world. It is in the process of being declared a world heritage site by UNESCO.”