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July 14, 2013 11:24 am

Israel’s Cabinet Approves 5-Year, NIS 500 Million Negev Desert Development Plan

avatar by Joshua Levitt

Northern Negev Desert. Photo: Tzuriel Cohen-Arazi, Tazpit News Agency

Israel’s government cabinet on Sunday approved a 2013-2017 national Negev development plan worth approximately NIS 500 million, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Communication Office said in a statement.

The plan will be spread over five years and constitutes the civilian response to the IDF’s move to the Negev. The plan was formulated by an inter-ministerial committee led by Prime Minister’s Office Director General Harel Locker and Negev and Galilee Development Ministry Director General Orna Hosman-Bechor and is designed to advance the development of the Negev as part of preparations for moving IDF bases to the Negev. The expectation is that as a result of the move, by 2020, there will be a NIS 1.4-1.7 billion increase in economic activity in the Negev per annum, according to the government communique. At the start of the meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom presented the main points of the plan.

The plan includes extensive and significant investments in all areas of life, focuses on economic development, housing solutions, strengthening [local] authorities, developing high-tech and emphasizes quality of life for residents. The plan accelerates economic development by subsidizing industrial zones and the establishment of three new industrial parks, provides incentives for companies to relocate to the Negev by subsidizing the salaries of high-tech workers and budgets for training employees. Inter alia, the plan also specifies that an outline will be formulated for turning Be’er Sheva into a cyber center. Increasing the number of Negev residents who serve in IDF technological units will create an employment track for the Israeli ‘silicon valley’.

In Be’er Sheva, Dimona, Yerucham, Arad, Ofakim and the Merhavim Regional Council will be declared national priority communities and defined as target communities for the plan. In these aforesaid communities, unique plans will be implemented in order to strengthen local authorities, which will be eligible for upgraded assistance and support, especially in managing long-term planning. The five-year plan will assure that the target communities will benefit from the potential inherent in the move of IDF units to the Negev, according to the release. The Negev and Galilee Development Ministry will be responsible for the overall Government work in implementing the plan.

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In order to encourage young people and young families to move to the Negev, the supply of housing will be increased, culture and recreation will be expanded, a campaign to brand the Negev as a housing target and attractive place of opportunity will be launched, and additional civilian infrastructures will be developed in order to close the gaps between Negev communities and the center of the country.

The decision joins the Government’s five-year plan for the socio-economic development of the Bedouin population in the Negev, which is now in its second year, and adds industrial, commercial and environmental aspects to it.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “We will make a very great effort, and I think that it is a historic move in the context of Government decisions to approve a national plan for the development of the Negev.”

“The plan that we are submitting today for the development of the Negev entails an additional investment of NIS 500 million and this investment will be in all the main aspects of life in the Negev in order to raise the quality of life. It is concentrated in employment, with an emphasis on high-tech. The Negev especially Be’er Sheva, is going to quickly become an important high-tech center for the State of Israel. The plan deals with economic development, strengthening infrastructures and housing solutions. It embraces all of the main communities in the Negev – Be’er Sheva, Dimona, Yerucham, Arad, Ofakim and the Merhavim Regional Council. It will also develop Be’er Sheva as a cyber center. In coordination with the Israel National Cyber Bureau (INCB), we are implementing joint projects and this is also a sign for the future, a better future for Be’er Sheva and the communities of the entire Negev, ” Netanyahu said.

Negev and Galilee Development Minister Shalom added: “Today is an especially moving day for me, as a man of the Negev, as the Negev and Galilee Development Minister, as we come today with the civilian response to the IDF’s move southward. The Defense Ministry is doing everything in order to move IDF bases. Last week, we dedicated the communications site, but we need to provide the civilian response, and this government, under your leadership, has understood that without providing the right civilian response to those who will potentially move – it will not be possible to for them to live in the Negev. We hope that those thousands of career personnel who will come with their families will the Negev to be their home, and in order to allow them to do so we have set up a one-stop-shop center, at which they can receive all the information they need about jobs for their spouses, education for their children, housing and infrastructure possibilities, culture and recreation, and we will assist each and every one who applies until they take root in the Negev.”

“Today, we are developing the Negev apace, Mr. Prime Minister. A high-tech park was recently established in Be’er Sheva and has opened its gates. Of course, in the Rahat-Lehavim-Bnei Shimon industrial park, we have brought companies like Soda Stream and Cargal, and in Netivot, in the Noam Industrial Park, which had been closed for many years, we brought Tara. You mentioned, of course, the development of infrastructure, for health, education, smart classrooms – today we are seeing dramatic changes, and we are talking about another NIS 500 million, in addition to the NIS 45 billion that we have invested in recent years and this is a great amount beyond the normal investments, of course, in the Negev,” Minister Shalom said.

“And therefore, today we are coming with genuinely good new that will allow all those who want to move, to tell him ‘You have the possibility of doing so because in the Negev today, there are conditions that are no less good than in the center of the country, and sometimes even better’ regarding housing prices, education, employment and a long series of issues such as culture and recreation which, I believe, are developing and prospering very well in the area.”

“The Negev and Galilee Development Ministry will be responsible for managing and implementing the decision in order to ensure that the Negev will receive significant support that will cause IDF career families and other strong populations to move to the Negev. The Ministry, in coordination with the local authorities in the Negev, will manage a campaign to change the image of the Negev. In recent years, the Negev has undergone a revolution, is drawing strong populations and is developing in all aspects of life. This additional investment will provide an additional urgency to the Negev and will upgrade the entire region as well as its residents,” Minister Shalom said.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid added that, “In addition to the major benefit to the development of the Negev, the transfer of IDF bases to the Negev will allow for the advancement of many housing starts in areas in demand and will lead to a lowering of housing prices.”

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