Is the closure of Sde Dov Airport being postponed again? The Knesset today approved on its second and third reading a bill authorizing the minister of defense, a portfolio currently held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to reconsider his position on vacating the airport, scheduled for this July.
The law is a success for opponents of the airport's closure, including hoteliers in Eilat, Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi, and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who proposed leaving one runway for internal flights between Tel Aviv and Eilat. Construction of thousands of apartments on the Sde Dov site is planned.
Tens of millions of shekels in damage
The Knesset passed the Dov Hoz Airport Law (special provisions) in March 2017. The law stated that Sde Dov Airport would continue operating as a civilian airport as long as civilian or military activity was being conducted there. Evacuation of the airport was postponed from January 2019 to July 2019, but the law's structure left an opening for reconsideration even at the latter date. The law now passed cancels construction of the temporary terminal that appeared in the original law.
The elimination of this clause states that the minister of defense can reconsider the evacuation date in consultation with the relevant professional staff, including the Ministry of Defense director general, the Attorney General, and the Ministry of Finance budget director. According to the new law, if the minister of defense decides after consultation to change the decision, he will announce a new date for halting military traffic at the airport, which will also change the date for halting civilian traffic there.
A recent analysis by former Ministry of Transport director general Uzi Itzhaki and economic Adv. Barak Teichman for the Eilat Hotel Association states that closing Sde Dov Airport will reduce the number of people flying to Eilat by 25-40% and cost the Eilat tourist industry tens of millions of shekels. Ticket prices will rise as a result of a drop in supply with the switch to Ben Gurion Airport as the main site for internal flights and a decline in demand by passengers.
Eilat mayor: I have been threatened by the Ministry of Finance
"Globes" reported earlier that the mayor of Eilat had sent a letter to Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon alleging that Ministry of Finance personnel had threatened him that the mayor's campaign against closing Sde Dov Airport would have consequences for the roof agreement signed by the Ministry of Finance to develop the town.
The Ministry of Finance and the city of Eilat signed a roof agreement in March 2017 for construction of 18,000 housing units and 7,000 hotel rooms in Eilat, plus monetary allocations for infrastructure, beachfront development, parks, a sports center, transportation infrastructure, and more.
In his letter, Yitzhak Halevi writes, "In recent months, various parties in the Ministry of Finance and senior figures in the Israel Land Administration have been making muted statements hinting at dissatisfaction with our legitimate struggle against closing Sde Dov Airport. The muted voices have recently become explicit, strident, and in my opinion, illegitimate, warning us that our struggle on the airport makes it impossible to go ahead with development in Eilat in various areas, including tourism, which have already been earmarked and approved.
"The Ministry of Finance teams and senior Israel Land Administration figures are ignoring the agreements, while stating clearly that the delay in approving them is a result of our struggle on Sde Dov Airport… This is in addition to the suspension of the strategic plan and other matters that are delaying the development of Eilat." Yitzhak Halevi concludes by demanding Kahlon's immediate intervention "to put an end to this serious phenomenon."
The Ministry of Finance rejects the accusations in the letter, telling "Globes" in response, "The Ministry of Finance is fully committed to the roof agreement on development of Eilat. The Ministry of Finance's policy on Eilat, as with all of the local authorities, is professional and objective, aimed at strengthening the town and consolidating its resilience and economic development."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 1, 2019
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