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Just as anyone would have been popular in the Ministry after Ora Namir's reign, it was tough coming on the heels of a beloved figure like Yossi Sarid. There was a very conscious decision by Ronen not to compete

with his “greener than thou” orientation. The cozy relations that existed between environmental groups and the Ministry provided one such example. Only two months into the job she told the press, “Green organ-izations will no longer have free run of Israel's Ministry of the Environment.” While she wanted good relations with environmentalists, she made it clear that it was unacceptable for them to be as involved in the Ministry's decision making as they had been under the previous administration.[170]

The issue came to a head over the development of a newly reflooded lake in the Huleh region. Much of the agricultural lands redeemed by the JNF after the swamp was drained proved to be useless to farmers (the underlying peat smoldered and collapsed once the protective layer of water was removed). In June 1994, a thousand dunams of lands in the Huleh Valley were once again flooded.[171] Although this was only 1 per-cent of the greater Huleh area, the effect of the re-created wetlands was astonishing. Within a year, tens of thousands of cranes returned to the new winter resort, apparently en route from Finland.[172] The farmers who had lost fields to the project were promised the rights to establish a guesthouse near the newly formed ecological attraction.

The Society for the Protection of Nature, with its unique historical re-lationship to the wetlands, opposed any contiguous tourist development. It called for accommodations to be concentrated in existing communities.[173] Ultimately the conflict centered over the appropriate definition for the term “ecotourism.”

Although close to ninety years of age, Heinrich Mendelssohn still pulled no punches on ecological issues: “What they are doing is stupid, be-cause all the beautiful birds that people will come to see just won't be there. They will fly off. And then the guests will of course suffer from the mosquitoes so they will have to use insecticides—causing irreparable dam-age to the site.”[174] Sarid had backed this position, but Rafael Eitan had more empathy for the plight of the locals. The Ministry supported a com-promise that moved construction away from the water itself but allowed it in the general vicinity. The SPNI denounced the retreat, and the new Ministry management returned fire with fire.

The heart of the disagreement seemed to be the appropriate role of an Environmental Ministry within Israel's executive branch. The Eitan-Ronen administration believed that the Ministry of the Environment agenda should be broader than those of nongovernmental groups and should include general public concerns.[175] In contrast, Sarid took a plural-istic view toward government, arguing that in light of the severity of the

situation, environmental agencies should harbor an uncompromising eco-logical commitment.[176]

Administratively the new leadership also began to chart its own course. It did not seem to mind if the Ministry lost the affection of local governments, and it began to divert funds away from municipal environmental protection units. Environmental enforcement, arguably the Ministry's greatest weak-ness, presumably was better served by this move, and the number of enforcement agents in the environmental patrol was doubled twice.

Substantively, the Eitan-Ronen administration made some changes in priorities. Cleanliness seemed to have a visceral appeal for the Minister. Considerable funds were allocated for a major antilitter campaign. Some, however, found the poster girl's ubiquitous admonition “Whoever dirties is trash” more annoying than adorable. The campaign certainly caught the attention of the public, but follow-up surveys failed to detect any change in societal attitudes or practices.[177] Ronen explains that the campaign was part of a broader educational orientation at the Ministry:“I believe that this sort of campaign will ultimately lead factory owners to begin cleaning up.”[178]

On most substantive issues, however, there was no detectable shift in formal environmental public policy. The Environmental Ministry was still officially opposed to the Trans-Israel Highway, and Ronen even ventured the view that if there had been a concerted effort against the highway from the outset, the project might have been stopped. The Ministry certainly did not become soft on pollution. Once she became acquainted with the situa-tion, Ronen took a hard line on industry, finding funds for more inspectors in the Ministry's field enforcement unit. “I quickly learned that factories won't invest in pollution control technology unless they are forced to do it and see that their friends have been fined for polluting,” she ex-plained.[179] But resources were still inadequate to take on the enormous task of turning things around.

The problem was not just quantitative but also qualitative. Tackling serious water and air polluters requires regulators with strong science back-grounds. It is little wonder that the vast majority of the prosecutions initiated by the enforcement branch in the Ministry involve littering, where it takes only a camera to catch a violation.[180] In this sense, the Ministry's inability to turn the Maccabiah disaster (discussed in Chapter 1) into a serious enforce-ment initiative or a turning point for river restoration was as much an example of inappropriate skill sets as it was flimsy political will.

After the initial purge of SPNI influence, cooperation between the Ministry and environment groups resumed, although it had a more cir-cumspect tone. Even watchdog Adam Teva V'din took time off from its

legal petitions against the Ministry to run their fifth Environmental Film Festival together.

Nonetheless, Yossi Sarid's exit left a gaping hole in the Ministry's image and initiative. The lack of a full-time Minister was a blow to the Ministry's prestige. The change in intensity was felt outside the Ministry as well. The environment was no longer an issue that got the press excited. It was also not on the Cabinet's agenda.

The new Ministry of the Environment's administration was by no means a pushover. (It was Ronen and not Sarid who closed down Tel Aviv's Hiriyah garbage dump, and she was crucial in a battle to stop the estab-lishment of a unsightly marina in Haifa.) Rather, the general stock of “Israel Environment, Ltd.” had taken a dive.

When Daliah Itzik, a forty-seven-year-old teacher turned Labor politi-cian, was appointed Minister of the Environment by newly elected Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the summer of 1999, she was vociferous in ex-pressing her disappointment. Anticipating the Education portfolio (which ironically went to Yossi Sarid), she pouted about Barak's “betrayal” on the front page of every newspaper.

Itzik eventually offered up the requisite lip service about the impor-tance of her new post[181] and showed considerable savvy with the press. But like the “National Environmental Council” she sponsored (which lacked any discernible authorities), her efforts often seemed largely symbolic. She brought together a Ministerial Committee on the Environment that put on an impressive show in the Knesset with the participation of the Prime Minister but which was quickly forgotten. Itzik gave superb speeches against the Trans-Israel Highway and even brought blankets to protesters camping out by the construction site, but for months, while the bulldozers rolled, she was unable to get the issue on the Cabinet's agenda. Eventually, her bid to cancel the highway was voted down in the Cabinet, seven to five. Itzik also had the good sense to appoint Yizhak Goren, who had successfully served in several top regional and national positions since the Ministry's inception, to the position of Director General. But she often apologized to environmental leaders that she was too busy with other responsibilities in government to meet with them. They could not help remembering that Sarid had always found time for them.

Then, just as quickly as she appeared on the scene, Itzik was gone, leap-ing at the opportunity to serve in the new Unity Government cabinet in a “real job” as Minister of Trade and Industry.

Tzachi ha-Negbi rose quickly in party ranks as a “second generation” Likud politician, the son of the legendary Jewish underground radio

announcer turned right-wing ideologue, Geulah Cohen. His appointment as Environmental Minister in March 2001 was ostensibly a demotion, after his previous post in the Netanyahu government as Minister of Justice. But if he was disappointed with the post, it never showed. His start was encouraging for the Ministry staff that found him to be smart, an ex-cellent listener, and perhaps the first Minister of the Environment who was actually an avid hiker, born into a more environmentally aware genera-tion. More than any other previous minister, he consistently consulted with the full community of Green organizations and sought their input.

Beyond his affable style, his initial decisions were also praised by the environmental community: imposing tough air quality emission permits on the Dan and Egged bus companies, or convincing the Cabinet to adopt a “green government” policy that promotes recycling and other environ-mental practices. Ha-Negbi hailed in a “recycling revolution” and person-ally pushed through an ambitious program to increase national recycling rates, which jumped to 15 percent in 2001, to 45 percent by 2005. When he appointed Bina Bar-On, a highly effective Deputy Director, to oversee en-vironmental education, the subject finally began to recieve serious re-souces and senior level attention. Still, it is not yet clear whether he will be willing to take a defiant stance when his government moves to adopt anti-environmental policies.[182] And, of course, after his many predeces-sors' ephemeral tenure the real question seems to be whether he will be at the helm long enough to make a difference.”

In retrospect, of the many Ministers who have taken the position, only Yossi Sarid seems to have left a serious imprint on the Ministry of the Environment. But Sarid's tenure seems to have been an anomaly—a brilliant vignette that inspired briefly but did not change the larger, discouraging nar-rative. It produced the media saturation necessary to let Israelis know that their environmental problems were serious, while conveying a can-do opti-mism that they could be solved. For a few years, the Ministry of the Environment turned environmentalism into a mainstream concern and gave activists the sense that Israeli public policy might one day move in a sustain-able direction. But a new environmental ethic did not have time to coalesce.

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