Volume 11, 2018
Which Kind of Rights?
Reclaiming, Public Rights and Commons Ownership
In the summer of 2009 a fierce controversy erupted in Israel regarding the tax regime and royalties over revenues from the newly discovered gas reserves in the Mediterranean. The Civil Action Forum claimed that the Israel public (or citizens) owns these recourses, and therefore that 80% of the gas revenues should go to the public. The claim that the public ‘owns’ natural resources or public space recurred during the past decade in Israeli environmental rhetoric. Such campaigns, especially those with extensive public participation, often employ rhetoric of environmental rights and public ownership of public space or resources, or use the complementary language of reclaiming. Such rhetoric and terminology reveal an emerging “commons sense”, critical for conceptualizing and defending the public “rights” over environmental and public resources. The paper argues that the rhetoric of public ‘ownership’ and ‘reclaiming’ could better be accounted for by referring to the commons discourse than to the discourses of environmental (human) rights or (distributive) environmental justice. The question whether such ‘commons rights’ could be reconstructed as environmental rights necessitates acknowledging non-exclusive collective property rights over public goods.