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PM agrees to review controversial West Bank waste-to-energy plant plan

Environment minister orders work on Good Samaritan facility in Mishor Adumim frozen, accuses Finance Ministry officials of issuing tender for project behind her back

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Buildings under construction in Mishor Adumim, an Israeli industrial zone adjacent to the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, in the West Bank, east of Jerusalem, on June 16, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Buildings under construction in Mishor Adumim, an Israeli industrial zone adjacent to the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, in the West Bank, east of Jerusalem, on June 16, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed Sunday to review controversial plans for a waste to energy incinerator in the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, near Jerusalem, after a meeting requested by the city’s mayor, Benny Kashriel.

Netanyahu ordered the establishment of an inter-ministerial committee, to be headed by Prime Minister’s Office Secretary Tzachi Braverman, and to include representatives from the ministries of finance, health and environmental protection, as well as from the Ma’ale Adumim local council and the Binyamin Regional Council.

Kashriel had warned the Environmental Protection Ministry that he would not allow the project to go ahead until he had all of the necessary information about its environmental implications.

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel, meanwhile, instructed ministry officials on Sunday to freeze all activity connected with the Ma’ale Adumim facility, named the Good Samaritan, and charged in a letter to the Finance Ministry’s accountant general that an inter-ministerial committee on waste disposal had ignored the fact that her ministry was reviewing waste policy across the board, and had gone behind her back by issuing a tender for the plant.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) next to Ma’ale Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel, during a meeting of the Likud party in the West Bank town, October 3, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Soon after becoming environmental protection minister in June, Gamliel ordered her ministry to temporarily freeze its policy on waste — including moves to build several incineration plants — so that she could conduct a review. She also replaced the ministry’s pro-incineration director general, Guy Samet, with the current incumbent, David Yahalomi.

Last month, she released an ambitious waste strategy that focuses on separating waste at source prior to recycling and that sees incineration and landfill dumping as last resorts for refuse that cannot be recycled or reused.

The Good Samaritan project, originally intended to be the first of several waste-to-energy incinerators throughout the country, was approved in a May 2017 government decision. This mandated the Environmental Protection Ministry to build the plant on a planned recycling site in Mishor Adumim (which falls within the Ma’aleh Adumim council’s jurisdiction) to deal with growing waste from metropolitan Jerusalem and the surrounding area.

In September 2019, the project went out to the preliminary stage of tender.

Last September, the High Court agreed to hear a petition filed by opponents of the plan who asked for a temporary injunction against publication of a full tender until the court had issued a ruling. The state, however, responded that there was no need for an injunction as it did not intend to issue a tender yet, and that if it did, it would give the opponents two weeks notice.

Likud Minister Gila Gamliel speaks at a conference at Tel Aviv University on June 11, 2019. (Flash90)

In a letter sent to the accountant general, Yali Rothenberg, on Sunday, Gamliel said that throughout the work to develop the ministry’s new waste strategy, it was “clarified to all parties” backing the Good Samaritan project that the strategy would have significant implications for the plans and for the tender.

“I turn to you after inquiries I have made have raised suspicions of improper and unscrupulous conduct on the part of the Tenders Committee dealing with the promotion of the facility,” she wrote, referring to a committee on waste disposal facilities chaired by a senior deputy accountant general with representation from the finance and environmental protection ministries, the government’s insurance company Inbal, and a team of external consultants.

From left: Former Environmental Protection Ministry director general Guy Samet, Minister Gila Gamliel, and Samet’s replacement, David Yahalomi. (Rafi Kotz, Government Press Office.)

She wrote that last June, on then director general Guy Samet’s last day at the ministry, the committee convened to discuss the tender. As the tender was not ready for publication, the committee decided, in an “irregular” fashion, according to Gamliel, to allow the chairman of the committee and its legal adviser, both from the Finance Ministry — in advance — to jointly decide to publish the tender, without convening the full committee. The result was that the two Finance Ministry officials issued the tender three weeks later.

“These acts were undertaken without my knowledge or permission,” Gamliel wrote, “behind the backs of the professionals in the ministry formulating the [new waste] strategy.”

Local residents who oppose the project have demanded that the Civil Administration, responsible for planning projects in the West Bank and issuing building permits, rezone the site, earmarked years ago for a waste landfill, so that they can formally object.

A view of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement in the West Bank, January 28, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The Good Samaritan project has been advanced as a public-private partnership, in which a private concern will build and operate the plant for 25 years, before transferring it to the state.

A spokesman for the Civil Administration said that an Environmental Protection Ministry official was working with it on the Good Samaritan project and had asked for work to be frozen.

He said that the administration was subservient not to the ministry, but to the government when it came to making a final decision on whether to halt work.

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