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The majority of Israelis have always lived in cities and towns. Between 1936 and 1948, 70 percent of the Jewish population lived in either Tel Aviv, Haifa, or Jerusalem.[59] In the most ambitious agricultural visions set for-ward in the Sharon plan of 1951, the farming population never exceeded 22 percent, and in reality most people remained concentrated around the big cities. Except for the scenic stony vistas of Jerusalem, however, cities were never idealized in Zionist culture. The dense, high-rise metropolis

was almost an anathema. Planners in the 1950s clung to the inexpensive and flexible model of cottages in garden village settings.[60] As these neigh-borhoods became more polluted, crowded, and noisy, more and more Israelis looked for a way out.

Environmentalists were quick to point out the disastrous consequences for open spaces. At the same time, they avoided the more difficult task of addressing the underlying motivation behind the changing geographic in-clinations. In fact, it should not have been hard to analyze. Environmental leaders' kibbutz affiliations were by now a thing of the past for the most part, yet most Green leaders continue to opt out of the predominant urban lifestyle. Some Israelis were moved by a residual “ruralist” impulse incul-cated by youth movements or school trips and nourished during outdoor military training, and which later came to dominate their leisure activities. Others sought the suburbs because they just wanted a little more privacy, peace, and quiet. Sprawl, after all, is an international phenomenon.

Although tougher zoning and more efficient cities can be called an eco-logical imperative, many Israelis see them as ecological tyranny. Without an attractive urban alternative, limits on development will not last for long in a democratic society. So quality of life in the cities has to be part of an open-space strategy. Immediate measures are also necessary.

People are typically unable to detect gradual environmental harm. The sudden disappearance of vast swatches of land during the 1990s, however, was dramatic enough to jolt the general public. Entire areas, such as the fertile Sharon region in central Israel or the scenic Judean hills, seemed to be swallowed by the deluge of concrete, asphalt, and sprawl.[61] A recent in-ventory suggests that available open space in the greater Tel Aviv region is down to a parsimonious 0.05 dunam per person, and that 23 percent of the land in the center of the country is already fully built.[62] It was not just the swiftness of the phenomenon but its irreversibility that shocked. Entire natural vistas, which had once moved ancient prophets and psalmists as well as more modern painters and poets, simply ceased to exist. In a coun-try dotted with archaeological sites, from prehistoric dwellings to Roman roads or Nabataean cities, Israelis know that construction does not easily disappear even when it is shoddy.

Some experts believe that more-detailed and better-quality statutory plans constitute the most effective strategy for preserving Israel's open spaces.[63] A key first step involves ranking the aesthetically and biologically unique terrain and demarcating large areas that are to be spared the on-slaught of development. National Master Plan Number 35, which is being finalized at the time of this writing, presumably will do a better job of

drawing such a line in the sand. The plan mandates the continued physical separation of different urban enclaves, as well as a “green corridor” that would extend from the Golan to the Negev. Yet a central lesson of the 1990s is that statutory protection is easily circumvented when there is suf-ficient panic about housing shortages, windfalls for developers, or new tax bases for cities. Enforcement of building codes and zoning is often more farcical than enforcement of emissions standards. It is not just high-rise hotels that make their own rules. Meron Chomesh, from the Israel Lands Administration, acknowledges that he does not know of a single quarry that has not pushed out beyond the limits of its licensed zone.[64] The enor-mous profits to be made from breaking the rules, when coupled with the complicity of prodevelopment government entities, offer a temptation that is difficult to overcome. Here again, the rare fine inevitably costs a small fraction of the profit.

Saving Israel's open spaces requires a change of perspective. Since the Israeli government administers 92 percent of the nation's lands, it must decide what sort of landlord it wishes to be. Does it want to maximize short-term profits, or to protect its assets for the future?[65] It is extremely unfortunate that during the modern age of privatization, the Israel Lands Authority is overseen by a Housing Ministry committed to development. Israel's government needs to reconfirm its commitment to preserving land reserves, categorically reject the idea of selling to the highest bidder. It needs to change the institutional bias, which reflects the orientation of politicians who seem to be automatically swayed by even poor-quality eco-nomic analysis.

The signs are so severe that the crisis is even starting to register with senior members of Israel's government. Thus, Shimon Peres, a Ben-Gurion protégé who may be Israel's most durable politician, has come to embrace the importance of land preservation. Peres has gone as far as call-ing the new city of Modi'in, located at the rocky ascent to the Judean hills, “a mistake” and eventually came to oppose massive roadway expansion, such as the Trans-Israel Highway.[66] The passage of the Forestry Master Plan No. 22, or Master Plan No. 31 for Immigrant Absorption, suggests that the professional planning community is committed. Getting maps approved, however, may be the easy part. Catching and punishing viola-tors is harder. Keeping the constraints in place will probably be the tough-est challenge of all.

It is important to remember that top-heavy policies, in a realm that af-fects such a key aspect of ordinary life, have limitations. Government can move only slightly faster than its own citizens. This dynamic was evident

in one failed effort to bolster plans for the greater Beer Sheva metropoli-tan area. Because of the northern Negev's unexploited carrying capacity and land reserves, the city is envisioned as supporting one to two million more people, relieving the pressure in Israel's crowded northern half. To expand employment opportunities, the Israeli Cabinet tried to force a gov-ernment corporation, Israel Chemicals, to move its headquarters south to Beer Sheva. Faced with an open rebellion by its Director General Victor Medina and the management, who insisted on staying in Tel Aviv, the gov-ernment backed down.[67]

Had a high-speed, half-hour train ride to the center of the country been available, the move might have seemed more appealing. At the same time, it may not be an altogether negative change that citizens today cannot be moved about by government fiat as they were during the 1950s and 1960s. If people choose their domiciles, presumably they will stay there and work to make their homes a better place to live. And if the same people choose to make recreation in open spaces part of their lifestyle, presumably they will sacrifice to save these lands.

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