Israel Environment Bulletin Winter 1995-5755, Vol. 18, No. 1
DR. ISRAEL PELEG: ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE
Shoshana Gabbay: In your capacity as Director General of the Ministry of
the Environment and head of the Israeli delegation to the multilateral
peace talks on the environment, you have played a pivotal role in the
regional efforts to promote peace and protect the environment in the
Middle East. Looking back, how can you summarize this period?
Dr. Israel Peleg: I feel both proud and privileged to have taken part in
this historic period which has witnessed the birth of the Middle East
peace process. During this time, my colleagues and I have worked long and
hard to ensure that the path to peace will coincide with the path to
sustainable development in this region.
On the multilateral track of the peace process, we already have a good
track record. A regional project for cooperation on maritime pollution and
emergency response in the Gulf of Aqaba has been launched; our proposal on
combating desertification has been promoted with the aid of the World
Bank; and under the leadership of the Japanese delegation, a regional
environmental code of conduct has been adopted. On the bilateral track,
our ministry has played an important part in incorporating environmental
aspects into the peace treaty with Jordan and into the Declaration of
Principles with the Palestinians. I think we have already shown that
regional cooperation on the sensitive environmental issues facing the
Middle East is possible. The challenge today is to implement the
agreements and projects, to translate understandings into concrete action,
to act together in protecting and managing the precious natural resources
which we all share.
Shoshana Gabbay: How will the era of peace impact the environment?
Dr. Israel Peleg: So much depends on our foresight today in planning for
tomorrow. The era of peace in the Middle East has the potential to foster
mutual cooperation and coordinated initiatives which will provide a
valuable impetus to environmental activities which will benefit us all. On
the other hand, peace in the Middle East is expected to usher in an era of
rapid economic development which will inevitably put enormous pressure on
the limited and fragile resources of our region. It is our mission to
ensure that economic growth will be carried out in a sustainable manner.
This can only be achieved by improving the capacity of each party to deal
with environmental issues, and by initiating joint and cooperative
projects in the different spheres of the environment.
Shoshana Gabbay: Can you cite any positive examples in which environmental
considerations have been incorporated into regional development plans as a
result of the peace process?
Dr. Israel Peleg: One of the important outcomes of the peace agreement
between Israel and Jordan is a plan to develop the Jordan Rift Valley
(JRV). This ambitious scheme, born as a result of deliberations within the
framework of the Trilateral (Israel-US-Jordan) Economic Committee of the
Middle East Peace Talks, calls for developing the JRV in a way that will
reap its full economic potential while preserving its valuable resource
base. Both Jordan and Israel have agreed that the process of developing
the JRV should begin with a preliminary study which will serve as a first
step toward the preparation of an integrated development master plan for
the area. The parties reached consensus on the terms of reference for the
development project and called upon the World Bank to assist in advancing
the planning process. It is significant that both the terms of reference
and the World Bank preliminary report emphasize the importance of
environmental management as part of the planning process. They underline
the need to check every step on the development path to ensure that the
unique environment and heritage of the JRV is not compromised. We suggest
that this approach be taken for other development plans currently on the
drawing board, including those generated by the Casablanca Economic Summit
held in late October 1994.
We are well aware that economic development and the creation of trade
relations between Israel and its neighbors through the opening of borders
to land, air and sea transport are a necessary basis for peace. On the
other hand, we cannot allow for a situation whereby the benefits of
economic development will be outweighed by heavy environmental costs. If
we are to ensure quality of life and the environment in Israel and in the
entire region, we must guarantee that environmental standards and
principles are not compromised.
Shoshana Gabbay: What can Israel do to help bring about sustainable
development in the region?
Dr. Israel Peleg: The Planning Division of the Ministry of the Environment
has prepared a document on sustainable development in the Middle East. The
economic development anticipated in the region obliges us to formulate,
still in the early stages of planning, a wise development policy which
will prevent the creation of environmental nuisances and risks and will
guide developersboth local and internationalto projects designed to
bring the maximum benefit to both present and future generations of this
Over the past twenty years, we in Israel have made substantial progress in
enacting the relevant legislation and implementing an environmental policy
targeted at preventing environmental degradation through the incorporation
of environmental considerations into the planning process. When
establishing regional infrastructure systems (such as land and air
transportation systems), the guiding principles must be the prevention of
environmental damage and degradation and full compliance with accepted
Shoshana Gabbay: What are some of the specific environmental principles
which must underlie development policy within the framework of the peace
process, especially in relation to Israel?
Dr. Israel Peleg: When formulating development policy, the importance of
preserving land reserves for future generations must be taken into account
as well as the protection and preservation of open spaces and landscapes
for recreation and tourism. The Middle East is characterized by unique
ecological and historical valuesa wide diversity of flora and fauna,
magnificent landscapes, and a rich cultural heritage sheltering many
religious and historical sites that are sacred to the three great
religions of humankind. These must not be sacrificed in the name of
development and economic progress.
In terms of Israel, specifically, current plans call for its
transformation into a regional center for infrastructure and services. In
light of the fact that this country is already characterized by a scarcity
of land reserves and by one of the highest population densities in the
developed world in the area north of the Negev, the siting of
land-guzzling infrastructures must be carefully assessed.
Shoshana Gabbay: What solutions can we forward to solve environmental
Dr. Israel Peleg: Adapting land use to physical conditions makes for more
efficient planning and serves as a good basis for solving environmental
problems. It is imperative that we plan land uses in accordance with the
suitability and sensitivity of land resources. Thus, for example,
landfills should be sited in areas of low hydrological sensitivity and low
risk of aquifer pollution while mining for raw materials should be
concentrated in areas with high geological reserves and low landscape
To help preserve precious land resources, full use should be made of
existing facilities, and infrastructure systems should be unified wherever
possible. When planning for new environmental infrastructures, such as
sewage and solid waste facilities, we must ensure that they will be
capable of keeping up with accelerated development in terms of capacity.
Such considerations must be raised at the earliest stages of development
planning and financing.
On the positive side, developments in the post-industrial era can foster
the implementation of innovative technologies which will allow for
economic development without environmental degradation. It is of utmost
importance that economic development in this region be based on the
experience of the OECD, especially in light of the fact that many
large-scale projects are likely to be financed with Western aid. Such
organizations as the World Bank, which has been active in various aspects
of the peace process, have already underlined the need for incorporating
environmental considerations in development plans for the region. We
totally endorse this approach.
Shoshana Gabbay: What would you say is the single most important
prerequisite for environmentally sound development in this region?
Dr. Israel Peleg: It is imperative that a process of environmental
assessment and review is established. Environmental aspects must be
incorporated into all development projects from the earliest stages, side
by side with engineering and economic aspects. Relevant environmental
issues must be identified at each stage of planning and implementation,
and an environmental consultant must be included in each planning team.
For projects with significant environmental impact, a process of
environmental impact assessment is necessary. Such a process is
well-rooted in Israel and in the world at large. Projects which should be
required to undergo environmental assessment include energy generation,
roads, interchanges and railroads, canals, and industrial areas. In
addition, any policy decisions which are expected to bring about a
significant change in the use of existing structures or facilities must
undergo environmental assessment. One area of special concern is the
vastly increased burden which will be placed on Israel's transportation
system. For example, the anticipated movement of trucks from Jordan to
Haifa port through the Jezreel Valley may pose a significant environmental
threat in terms of air pollution and noise.
Shoshana Gabbay: At this juncture, what are your hopes and apprehensions
regarding the future of environmental protection in the Middle East?
Dr. Israel Peleg: Peace is not necessarily colored green. New
infrastructures for housing, roads and industry involve a high risk of
environmental damage. Increased industrial development and vehicular
traffic threaten to take a heavy toll in terms of increased energy
consumption, air pollution, noise and waste.
As in all aspects of life, the environment will inevitably be affected by
the passage from an atmosphere of war and hostility to an atmosphere of
peace and cooperation in the Middle East. Whether peace will take a toll
in the form of added pollution and environmental degradation or will lead
to sustainable development and the integrative management of natural
resources for the benefit of all residents of the region
depend on our actions today.
I, for one, sincerely believe that the era of peace is the time for the
environment. With the advent of peace, Israel and its neighboring
countries will finally be able to allocate the necessary resourcesboth
intellectual and financialto ensure a better environment and a better
quality of life for all the people in our region.