(photo credit: Shira Teger )
The government announced plans on Sunday to invest around half a billion shekels ($142 million) into four communities located on the country’s periphery.
Three northern towns benefiting from the mass expenditures – Kiryat Shmona, Metulla and Shlomi – are found near the Lebanese border, in the Galilee region. The other beneficiary is development town Yeroham in the Negev desert.
The decision to invest in the four communities comes after the cabinet approved a map of national priority areas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached the agreement with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Economy Minister Eli Cohen and Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant.
“Kiryat Shmona, Metulla and Shlomi are precious to us and we will continue to strengthen them,” Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting on Sunday. “The decision on Yeroham is a pioneering one for the IDF’s move to the Negev, and we’ve created a government-backed, socioeconomic engine that enables the development of the entire region.”
Some NIS 100m. will help develop the “Food-Tech Hub” in Kiryat Shmona – an attempt to revitalize the struggling border town by encouraging food innovation and research companies to set-up shop there.
Opened in 2017, the culinary center is part of a larger regional program to transform the Upper Galilee region into a hotbed for food technology, The Jerusalem Post reported last year. The Jewish National Fund-supported site hosts a tech incubator and food development innovation labs, along with other workspaces.
Other funds – NIS 123m. – will help renovate municipal buildings close to a military base in Yeroham. The southern town is acting on a multi-year 2018-2022 economic plan in which it seeks to bandwagon on how the Israel Defense Force is relocating operations to the South and out of the country’s crowded Center.
A new training base was recently built at the Negev Junction, less than 10 kilometers from the town. And to grapple with the influx of officers and their families, some 3,800 residential units are planned to be built in Yeroham over the next five years.
It is unclear whether the funds are a one-time boost to otherwise neglected regions or if the government is embarking on a new policy of continued investment in the economically struggling periphery.
“These are important towns to invest in,” said Dan Ben-David, a professor of public policy at Tel Aviv University and the Shoresh Institute, adding: “However, this is typical symptomatic treatment rather than a comprehensive dealing with core issues.”
Ben-David listed the various hurdles obstructing the four towns, including the lack of quick and inexpensive transportation to larger job markets and under-investment in local education systems.
Some of the money may be allocated to fix routine city hall complaints, like potholes in the pavement, along with retrofitting buildings to withstand earthquakes and rehabilitating less affluent neighborhoods. The government’s plan also specifies energy efficiency and encouraging tourism.
In terms of infrastructure, the Transportation Ministry will allocate NIS 166m. as part of the plan, Calcalist reported, much of it going to refurbish Route 90 from the Almog Junction to Ein Gedi.
An additional NIS 417m. will go towards preventing the many sinkholes cropping up around the Dead Sea, Calcalist added. As the body of water continues to shrink – with its Jordan tributary diverted for agricultural purposes – more and more potholes will develop in the area.
Experts commissioned from the Prime Minister’s Office and Geological Survey concede that in the short-to-medium-term, there is no quick fix to the problem of ever-growing sinkholes. In other words, a long-term solution could see local residents or businesses relocating from those areas worse hit.
While the funds are a positive step in reducing social inequalities, some are worried that it may not be long-lasting.
“Israel is a small country, and this is all doable within a fairly short period of time. However, it requires a pivot in Israel’s national priorities, away from narrow, short-term sectoral solutions towards a long-term focus on the country’s root challenges,” Ben-David added.