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Middle East Environmental Law



I. Political Structure

Israel is a parliamentary democracy, consisting of legislative, executive and judicial branches. Its institutions are the Presidency, the Knesset (parliament), the Government (cabinet), the Judiciary and the State Comptroller.

The system is based on the principle of separation of powers, with checks and balances, in which the executive branch is subject to the confidence of the legislative branch (the Knesset) and the independence of the judiciary is guaranteed by law.

A. Presidency

The President (nasi in Hebrew) bears the ancient title of the head of the sanhedrin, the supreme legislative and judicial body of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel in ancient times. He is the head of state and his office symbolizes the unity of the state, above and beyond party politics.

Presidential duties, which are mostly ceremonial and formal, are defined by law. Amongst his formal functions are the opening of the first session of a new Knesset; accepting the credentials of foreign envoys; signing treaties and laws adopted by the Knesset; appointing judges, the governor of the Bank of Israel and heads of Israel's diplomatic missions abroad, on the recommendation of appropriate bodies; and pardoning prisoners and commuting sentences, on the advice of the minister of justice. In addition, the President performs public functions and informal tasks which include citizens' appeals, lending prestige to communal and social associations, and strengthening public actions such as the fight against road accidents.

The President is elected by a simple majority of the Knesset from among candidates nominated on the basis of their personal stature and contribution to the state. The President is elected for one term of seven years.

The President accredits Israel's envoys to foreign countries and accepts the credentials of foreign diplomats serving in Israel. He signs every law enacted by the Knesset and treaties and agreements with foreign countries that have been ratified by the Knesset. The President maintains constant contact with the Government through regular meetings with officials, weekly briefings on Government sessions, and receives regular, comprehensive information from the various government agencies.

B. The Knesset

The Knesset is the parliament of the State of Israel; its main function is to legislate. It took its name and fixed its membership at 120 from the knesset hagedolah (great assembly), the representative Jewish body convened in Jerusalem by Ezra and Nehemiah in the 5th century BCE.

Seats in the Knesset are assigned through a system of nationwide proportional representation: Rather than electing individual candidates, voters cast ballots for an entire party. Any party receiving more than 2 percent of the vote is assigned a proportional number of seats in the 120-member legislature. Prior to the general election, each party holds an internal election to decide on a list of representatives to occupy any seats the party should win. If, for instance, a party wins ten seats, the first ten names on the slate will become members of the new Knesset. Each Knesset is expected to serve a four-year term. However, if a majority of the representatives agree, they may elect to dissolve the body and hold early elections. The Knesset's tenure may also be prolonged beyond four years, though this requires a "special majority" of eighty votes. The Knesset elects the prime minister, and also holds the power to remove the president. New laws require a simple majority vote.

A new Knesset begins to function after general elections, which determine its composition. In the first session, which is opened by the president, the Knesset members declare their allegiance, and the speaker of the Knesset and his deputies are elected. In plenary sessions, general debates are conducted on government policy and activity, as well as on legislation. Debates are conducted in Hebrew, but members may speak Arabic, as both are official languages; simultaneous translation is available.

A bill may be presented by an individual Knesset member, a group of Knesset members, the Government as a whole or a single Minister. When a Ministry initiates a bill, a memorandum on the proposed law is passed to the Ministry of Justice for comment on its legal aspects, to the Ministry of Finance for economic and budgetary review, and to the rest of the Government Ministries for their remarks. If the memorandum is approved, the bill is passed on for formulation so that it can be presented to the Knesset, and approval by the Government. Private members' bills do not require Government approval.

The bill is presented to the plenary for a first reading, and a short debate on its contents. It is then referred to the appropriate Knesset Committee for detailed discussion and redrafting, if necessary. The bill is returned to the plenary for a second reading, presentation of reservations by committee members, and a general review. If, thereafter, it is not found necessary to return the bill to the committee, a third reading takes place, at which a vote on the bill is taken.

The Knesset is elected for a tenure of four years, but may dissolve itself or be dissolved by the prime minister before the end of its term. Until a new Knesset is formally constituted following elections, full authority remains with the outgoing one.

C. Prime Minister

The Prime Minister of Israel is the head of the Israeli government and the most powerful political figure in Israel. The Prime Minister is the country's chief executive. Following an election, the President nominates a member of the Knesset to become Prime Minister after asking party leaders whom they support for the position. The nominee then presents a government platform and must receive a vote of confidence in order to become Prime Minister. A prime-ministerial candidate must be a member of the Knesset and needs a simply majority of votes to be confirmed. Prime Ministers are expected to serve four-year terms, though these may be shortened by a vote of no confidence in the Knesset. Such votes name a replacement candidate, who is given the opportunity to form his or her own government.

To form a new government, a prospective prime minister has forty-five days to fill cabinet positions and win Knesset approval. Since no single party has ever won a majority of the seats in the Knesset, this has required forming a coalition with other parties in order to win majority approval. After parliamentary elections, the President invites other party leaders to help form a government. The President does not have to extend this invitation to the party that controls the most seats in the Knesset, rather, the invitation goes to the party the President believes is most capable of forming a coalition. In forming a coalition, a party leader must offer some cabinet positions to members of the smaller coalition partners, as smaller parties often represent the additional votes needed to pass legislation. These smaller parties tend to use this influence to further their political agendas.

Once the Prime Minister's proposed list of ministers together with an outline of proposed government guidelines is approved by the Knesset, the ministers are responsible to the Prime Minister for the fulfillment of their duties and accountable for their actions to the Knesset. Most ministers are assigned a portfolio and head a ministry; others serve without a portfolio but may be called upon to take responsibility for special projects.

The Cabinet of ministers is the executive authority of the state, charged with administering internal and foreign affairs, including security matters. Its policy-making powers are very wide and it is authorized to take action on any issue which is not delegated by law to another authority. All the ministers must be Israeli citizens and residents of Israel; they need not be Knesset members, but a majority usually is. Ministers, with the approval of the Prime Minister and the government, may appoint a deputy minister in their ministry; all deputy ministers must be Knesset members.

The Government determines its own working and decision making procedures. It usually meets once a week but additional meetings may be called as the need arises. The Government may also act by means of ministerial committees.

To date, all Governments have been based on coalitions of several parties, since no party has received enough Knesset seats to be able to form a government by itself.


The absolute independence of the judiciary is guaranteed by law. Judges are appointed by the President, upon recommendation of a special nominations committee, comprised of Supreme Court judges, members of the bar and public figures. Judges' appointments are for life, with a mandatory retirement age at 70.

Although legislation is wholly within the competence of the Knesset, the Supreme Court can and does call attention to the desirability of legislative changes; sitting as the high court of justice, it has the authority to determine whether a law properly conforms with the Basic Laws of the state.

The judiciary acts as Israel's watchdog over the rule of law and individual rights, as do similar institutions in other countries. However, the absence of a complete written constitution, including a bill of rights, combined with regulations remaining from British Mandatory rule and the wide powers of the legislative branch, places the judiciary in Israel in a more important and delicate position.

The judicial system in Israel is divided into two main types: one, the general law courts which are known as civil or regular courts, and the other, tribunals and other authorities with judicial powers. The difference between the two types of institutions is, inter alia, in the extent of their jurisdiction: while jurisdiction of the law courts is general, the jurisdiction of the other tribunals is limited in terms of persons or matters or in both aspects.

A. Basic Laws

Israel has no formal constitution. However, most chapters of the prospective constitution have already been written, and enacted as Basic Laws.

• The Kenesset (1958)

• Israel Lands ( 1960)

• The President (1964)

• The State Economy (1975)

• The Israel Defense Forces ( 1976)

• Jerusalem (1980)

• The Judicature (1984)

• The State Comptroller (1988)

• Human Dignity and Liberty (1992)

• Freedom of Occupation (1992)

• The Government (1992)

The Basic Laws are adopted by the Knesset in the same manner as other legislation. Their constitutional import is derived from their nature and, in some cases, from the inclusion of "entrenched clauses" which require a special majority to amend.

B. The Courts Structure

The law courts constitute a separate, independent unit within the Ministry of Justice. The Director of Courts is a judge, appointed to this position by the Minister of Justice, pursuant to Section 82 of the Courts Law (Consolidated Text) 5744-1984; he is responsible to the Minister for the orderly operation of the various judicial instances.

The Organization of Courts of Law is managed by the Directorate of Courts, headed by the Director of Courts. The system is headed by the President of the Supreme Court of Law, and the Minister of Justice.

The organization of the Courts of Law in Israel includes all the Courts of Law in Israel:

  1. The Supreme Court
  2. The District Courts of Law
  3. The Magistrates Courts (the first instance) - and in general, the Court of Traffic Offenses, Family Courts and Juvenile Courts
  4. National Labor Court
  5. Regional Labor Courts

In addition, the organization also includes the Bailiff Office that works, according to the law, linked to the Magistrates Court and the Center for Collection. The latter is an administrative unit within the Directorate of Courts in charge of collecting fines and other debts as determined by the Courts of Law. The Courts of Law are deployed in some 50 regions, throughout Israel and are organized into six districts.

In addition to the Director of Courts, who is the president of a district court, the Directorate of Courts has a deputy director, who is a magistrate's court judge, and a senior assistant director for administration. The Directorate of Courts sees to the proper functioning of the court system. Its activities involve various areas, of which the most important are: systems and computerization; internal controls and auditing; planning, organization, and budgeting; personnel, supplies, maintenance, and construction; finance and accounting; training and library services; legal assistance to foreign countries; and public relations and security.

III. Environmental Law in Israel

Israel has no single environmental law, nor are the environmental laws of Israel grouped under the control of one minister. During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, most environmental legislation dealt with the environment from two main vantage points:

1. Abatement of nuisances and protection of public health

2. Protection of a particular natural resource, for example, water, nature reserves, forests.

Israel's environmental legislation is wide ranging. It covers the entire expanse of environmental issues, uses all forms of legislative instruments - laws, regulations, administrative orders and bylaws - and is linked to international environmental law.

The country's environmental legislation encompasses laws for the protection of nature and natural resources (air, water and soil), for the abatement and prevention of environmental nuisances (prevention of air, noise, water and marine pollution), and for the safe treatment of contaminants and pollutants (hazardous substances, radiation and solid and liquid waste).

Alongside laws and regulations dealing with specific environmental issues, Israel's legislation includes comprehensive laws, such as the Planning and Building Law and the Licensing of Businesses Law, which provide a framework for controlling the use of resources and promoting sustainable development.


A. International Cooperation:

International cooperation with both organizations and states is an important component of Israel's environmental agenda. Over the years, Israel has reinforced its efforts and strengthened its commitment to active participation in global and regional programs and agreements on behalf of the environment. Its contribution, within the context of different international organizations, spans all areas of the environment - marine protection, combating desertification, water resource protection and development, biodiversity conservation and development of environmental technologies, to name but a handful. At the same time, Israel has ratified nearly all of the major environmental conventions and ensures that its national legislation conforms to international obligations.

International cooperation with both organizations and states is an important component of Israel's environmental agenda. Since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, Israel has reinforced its efforts and strengthened its commitments to active participation in global and regional programs and agreements on behalf of the environment. The country's contribution to international cooperation spans all areas of the environment and is carried out at the multilateral and bilateral levels.

In developing international environmental agreements and conventions, Israel has participated in negotiations in numerous global and regional meetings, has signed and ratified almost most of the major environmental conventions, and ensures that its national legislation conforms to international obligations. Some of the major conventions to which Israel is party include:

  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol
  • Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal
  • Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and Montreal Protocol
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Convention to Combat Desertification
  • Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage
  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flore (CITES)
  • Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitats

B. Regional and Bilateral Environmental Cooperation:

In keeping its active international role in development of international environmental law, Israel plays an active role in regional and bilateral environmental cooperation. Most of Israel's regional activities are carried out within the framework of the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). MAP is an action-oriented cooperative effort involving 20 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea as well as the European Union. MAP is run by a Coordinating Unit based in Athens and comprises a Mediterranean Commission on Sustainable Development, a MED POL Programme for the Assessment and Control of Pollution, six Regional Activity Centers (RACs) and a Programme for the Protection of Coastal Historic Sites. Since its creation in 1975, MAP has been widely acclaimed as a model of regional cooperation. Israel has been an active member of the organization throughout the years and has contributed to all components of its legal, socio-economic and scientific activities.

Israel is involved in various bilateral agreements for environmental cooperation. For example, in 1991, the Ministry of the Environment and the US Environmental Protection Agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a framework for scientific and technical cooperation between the two organizations in the field of environmental protection, including exchanges of scientific and technical information, exchange visits of scientific personnel, joint scientific symposiums and workshops, and cooperative research on problems of common interest. Some of the other important bilateral environmental cooperation Israel is partly agreed to which include:

• Agreement between the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Spain of Cooperation in the Field of Desertification (1993);

• Agreement between the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Spain on Cooperation in Environmental Matters and Nature Conservation (1993);

• Agreement between the Government of the State of Israel and the Government of the Republic of Turkey on Cooperation in Environmental Matters and Nature Conservation (1994);

• Agreement between the Government of the State of Israel and the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan on cooperation in the field of Environmental Protection (1995);

• Memorandum of Intent between Israel and New Jersey Concerning a Joint Israel-New Jersey Program to Promote the Establishment of Environmental Management Systems (1996);

• Agreement between the Government of the State of Israel and the Government of Ukraine on Cooperation in the Field of Environmental Protection (1966);

• Agreement between the Government of the State of Israel and the Government of Romania in the Fields of Environmental Protection and Nature (2000);

• Agreement between the Government of the State of Israel and the Government of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Cooperation in the Field of Environmental Protection (1998);

• Memorandum of Understanding on Multiple Cooperation between the Government of the State of Israel and the Government of the Republic of South Africa (1992);

• Agreement between the Government of the State of Israel and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany on Cooperation in Environmental Matters and Nature Conservation (1993).

C. Israel Ministry of the Environment

Prior to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Service in 1973, responsibility for the environment was divided among several ministries in Israel. After the United Nations Conference on Human Environment (Stockholm Conference), the government established the Environmental Protection Service as a first step in the creation of a comprehensive and modern environmental administration in Israel. In December 1988, a Ministry of the Environment was established in Israel. This proved a landmark in Israel's environmental development and in the government's determination to tackle environmental issues.

In its decision number 193 of June 25, 2006, the Israel government endorsed the request of the Minister of the Environment to change the name of the Ministry of the Environment to the Ministry of Environmental Protection to better reflect the ministry's aims.

IV. Environmental Issues in Israel

The current environmental crisis is worldwide; among the most serious issues are global warming, the destruction of tropical rain forests, acid precipitation, soil erosion and depletion.

Israel's geography and population distribution, together with its climatic conditions, lay the basis for its major environmental problems. Israel is a small country with a wide range of climates, ecosystems and a unique landscape. Israel is characterized by rapid population and economic growth. Established in 1948, its population has increased nearly eight-fold to 6.5 million today - mainly as a result of large-scale immigration. From a sparsely populated country in its early years, Israel has been transformed into a densely populated and highly developed country.

Israel includes a wide range of physical conditions and a rich variety of flora and fauna. The country's location at the junction of three continents, coupled with the climatic changes throughout the history of this region, has been largely responsible for the great diversity of species. This biological wealth is found in some 2,600 plant species (150 of which are indigenous to Israel) and in 7 amphibian, almost 100 reptile, over 500 bird and some 100 mammal species.

Recognition of the need to protect Israel's landscape and natural resources led to the enactment of nature conservation laws and to the establishment of the Nature and Parks Authority, dedicated to the protection of natural habitats, natural assets, wildlife, and sites of scientific and educational interest. While nature reserves are predominantly concerned with the conservation of nature, national parks are primarily concerned with the conservation of heritage and archeology. To date, 142 nature reserves and 44 national parks, spanning some 3,500 square kilometers (out of nearly 6,000 square kilometers of planned protected areas) have been declared throughout the country. Together they represent the entire spectrum of Israel's natural heritage - Mediterranean forests, marine landscapes, sand dunes, freshwater landscapes, desert and crater landscapes, and oases - as well as its unique archeological and historic heritage, including ancient synagogues with mosaic floors, prehistoric caves, and fortresses dating back to the Second Temple Period.

Outside the confines of nature reserves, hundreds of plant and animal species have been declared "protected natural assets." Animals such as the leopard, gazelle, ibex and vulture have been declared protected species, and special rescue operations, including establishment of feeding stations and nesting sites, have been initiated. At two special wildlife reserves - the Hai Bar reserves in Yotvata in the south and on Mount Carmel in the north - experimental projects were implemented to reintroduce animal species, which once roamed the hills and deserts of the Land of Israel, into their former natural habitats. In recent years, Persian fallow deer and roe deer have been returned to the lush Carmel Mountain Range and onagers and Arabian oryx to the sandy Negev and Arava.

Israel faces severe environmental problems today. Among the more important reasons are some positive factors that Israel hopes will continue: rapid population growth; rapid industrialization; and increased affluence which has resulted in a sharp increase in the use of automobiles and other consumer goods. In addition, environmental concerns were largely ignored for many years because of the need to consider security as a top priority.

Israel has been taking steps recently to address its environmental problems. The many projects includes a safe disposal of bottles campaign, the institution of eco-labeling on environmentally-friendly products, and various clean-up and recycling campaigns. It also developed an information campaign that involved all government ministries, every municipality, numerous public organizations, the private sector, and the entire educational system in a unique and unprecedented environmental partnership. Also, laws have recently been passed to reduce pollution and other environmental problems. However, much more needs to be done and laws have to be enforced more strictly.

The following succinctly explains some of the major environmental problems in Israel:

Air Pollution

With population centers all along the coast, urban sprawl causes traffic jams, filling the greater Tel Aviv area with smog and air pollution. Israel's major cities, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa, as well as industrial centers like Ashdod, face severe air pollution problems, primarily from industrial and automobile emissions. It has been government policy, since the 1980s, to encourage the use of private vehicles as the main source of transportation. In Tel Aviv, usage of public buses rose by only 1% between 1999 and 2006, while private care usage rose by 25%. The government receives approximately 10% of its annual tax revenue from vehicle sales, fuel taxes and licensing. In certain cities like Haifa, the air pollution from cars adds to that created by industry. Together, these pollutants are captured in the Haifa air due to the effects of its topography. Compounding the problem is an inadequate mass transit system, based mainly on buses rather than railways and subways.

In spite of the sunny climate and advanced knowledge of solar powered technologies, Israel continues to build coal-fired power plants to supply its energy needs. There are efforts to convert coal-fired power plants to gas. For example, the Tel Aviv power plant switched from coal to natural gas in 2006. This trend is being augmented due to the discovery of gas fields in the Mediterranean near Israel's coast. The increasing level of air pollution has severe effects on health and safety of the people. A study published in 2003 put the number of deaths in the Tel Aviv-Ashdod area as a result of air pollution at over 1000 per year. A 2009 report by the Coalition for Public Health found the air pollution levels in Israel to be significantly higher than Western Europe, and that as pollution in most of Israel's cities endangers children's health.

Water Shortage and Water Quality

Severe water shortages may become the most crucial problem Israel will face in the future. Since the mid-1970's, demand for water has at times outstripped supply. Israel is a semi-arid country where no rain falls for six months a year. While Israel was known as a country that practiced water conservation and pioneered the development of the drip irrigation method, the country has recently been using increasing amounts of water per person, often for non-essential uses. There has been a sharp increase in private pools, water parks, and automatic car washes. Due to significant shortage, Israel tried to capture all sources of fresh water, tap the limited ground-water resources, and tie is the Kinneret, Israel's only fresh water lake, into one water grid. This engineering approach to Israel's water resources has prevented Israel from water shortages, as in Jordan, but it has had deleterious effects on the environment. All the experiences headwaters of natural flowing towards the Mediterranean were captured. Further to water scarcity. Israel also suffers from water pollution, with most of her streams and rivers being significantly polluted, generally much more polluted than rivers in North America and Western Europe. Only the rivers in the Golan Heights and Ein Gedi, where the number of people per unit area is still relatively small, can be considered clean. Israel suffers not only from its own water pollution but also from pollution produced by other oceanic riparian countries, both on the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. The major sources of marine pollution in the Mediterranean are well known. Pollution in the Gulf of Aquaba-Eliat is mainly due to the major port facilities in Aqaba and Eilat. To this can be added the ever present pollution of oil from tankers, as well as boat traffic along the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. As oil pollution has been reduced, due to technology and international agreements, coastal pollution has increased in the Mediterranean. Israel has a better record of preventing direct pollution to the Sea than most of the countries in the basin.

Solid Waste

Each year, Israel produces seven billion tons of solid waste from its cities, farms, industries and construction. The amount of solid waste produced has increased by 5% a year , as opposed to the 2% increase in population and it is expected to reach to 12 million tons a year by the year 2020. Israel faces a solid waste crisis due to the discharge of increasing amounts of garbage yearly and the country's meager land resources. Many garbage disposal sites were poorly designed and managed and many are also at or near their full capacity. However, there has been recent legislation was recently adopted requiring a sharp increase in recycling. Also, many older inefficient landfills are being closed and new, more environmentally sound landfills are being opened. This trend has not reduced the amount of solid waste, but it has encouraged the better handling of solid waste and more recycling.

Selected Resources:

• Foreign Ministry of Israel,

• Ministry of Environmental Protection,

• Israel's Prime Minister Office,

• Environmental Issues in Israel, available at:

• Environmental Law in Israel, Richard Laster & Dan Livney, Published by Wolters Kluwer (Law & Business), 2011.

• Israel National Report on Climate Change, Submitted under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2003.

• Laws and Regulations in Israel:

• List of International Environmental Conventions,

• The Basic Legal System of Israel: