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Bibi Netanyahu and the Likud's election victory on May 29, 1996, brought the Sarid era to an abrupt end. Environmentalists lost no time in lobbying for an appropriate replacement, but it was hard to find a politi-cian who wanted the job. To keep the Cabinet size down, the Tsomet Party's Rafael “Raful” Eitan agreed to return to the Ministry of Agriculture and serve simultaneously as Environmental Minister. (The position of Minister of Police that he truly coveted was blocked because

of an indictment filed against him that was eventually dismissed.[160]) At first it was not even clear whether the Ministry would survive as an independent entity. It did, but Eitan's background as a farmer suggested where his real interests lay.

Like Sarid, Eitan was head of a small ideological party. Both were known for their commitment to principles and were famed as entertaining storytellers. But all similarities stopped there. Eitan was a retired general and had served as the Israel Defense Force chief of staff. Sarid completed military service as a private. Eitan was the consummate hawk and Sarid the original dove. Sarid waxed prolix while Eitan was laconic and blunt. Yet, there was ample reason to believe that Eitan was a strong appoint-ment. As Minister of Agriculture during the early 1990s, he had stood up to agricultural interests and pushed through a more sustainable water pol-icy. Environmentalists hoped that he would continue Sarid's independent tradition of advocacy.

By the time of the elections, Yisrael Peleg had resigned as Director General of the Ministry to make an unsuccessful run in the Labor Party Tel Aviv primaries. Aaron Vardi, a straight-talking retired military officer, replaced him. Once elected, Eitan immediately replaced him with his per-sonal assistant, Nehama Ronen. With Eitan distracted by partisan politics and another Ministerial portfolio, Ronen overnight became the central fig-ure in the Ministry.[161]

Expectations were low, because Ronen had no substantial administra-tive experience beyond working within Eitan's Tsomet Party apparatus. An attractive blonde who looked younger than her thirty-five years (see Figure 28), she was well aware that her appointment was greeted with skepticism. The story quickly circulated that Eitan (an old paratrooper) had hired Ronen fresh out of the army in 1984 primarily because, as a clerk for the 202nd Paratrooper Battalion, she had jumped out of planes.[162]

After thirteen years of intense political activity, and a strong sixth po-sition on the Tsomet Party list, Ronen was confident she could manage.

People dealt with me more cautiously, not only because of my sex but because of my age. Most of the people had been working in the field for many years and I didn't come from the environmental world. But today it is easier to see women in key positions, and I think they began to judge me according to the results.[163]

Ronen brought a pragmatic, no-nonsense style to the job, gaining her the grudging personal respect of many within the environmental community.[164]


Given the Ministry of Agriculture's lackadaisical record in the area of water quality, environmentalists were quick to seize on the potential con-flict of interests between Eitan's dual Ministerial loyalties. Ironically, Eitan was deprived of the best opportunity for Ministerial synergy when the Water Commission was transferred from the Ministry of Agriculture to the newly created Ministry of Infrastructure. Meir Ben Meir had been reappointed as Water Commissioner and from the start was perceived as uncooperative with the Environmental Ministry's staff. The Commissioner's powerful investigative and enforcement powers were never marshaled for environmental ends.[165]

In her public presentations, Ronen tried to paint the fact that her boss wore two hats as a source of opportunity. She cited initiatives to solve dairy farm runoff in the Golan Heights and a continued commitment to meet a 2004 phaseout deadline for methyl bromide as examples of envi-ronmental dividends her boss had delivered.[166] In retrospect, however, Eitan was rarely inclined to take advantage of his agricultural portfolio to push farmers seriously toward reducing fertilizers and pesticides and to-ward other sustainable management practices. Pesticide usage in Israel is still among the most intensive in the world; practically no oversight of ap-plication takes place in the field, and cancer rates among farmers remain high.[167] Agricultural pollution is an environmental problem that requires rethinking and innovation. Providing farmers with economic incentives helps but may not be enough. International experience suggests that the proverbial carrot may actually be less effective than the stick of regulatory demands to change farm practices.[168] At the same time, the sheer number of agricultural polluters makes command and control regulation a difficult policy to impose on Israel's farmers.[169]

On the whole, Eitan proved capable of leaving his competing interest at the door when he approached his environmental duties. Although he did not exploit his environmental post to further agricultural interests, neither did he create a meaningful new ecological initiative in Israel's rural sector. In the long run, Israel's farmers are certain to be the losers with regard to the lack of a serious policy response: It is their land and water that sustain the greatest damage, as well as their health.

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