Edri: We won't give up until Negev gets what it deserves

The country's leaders gathered Tuesday in Dimona for the second Conference for the Sustainable Development of the Negev, where they discussed various plans to enhance the infrastructure of peripheral areas. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who took part in the conference, commented on the recent announcement of the suspension of the proposed train link between Ashkelon and Beersheba. "The establishment of a train route between Ashkelon and Beersheba is a strategic governmental decision. He who gives up the development of this route gives up on the development of the periphery," he said. "The railroad track will improve our grasp in this region. We will do everything it takes to make sure this plan is executed, including turning to the private sector." Minister of the Development of the Negev and the Galilee Ya'acov Edri, whose office was in charge of the conference, promised not to give up until "the Negev gets what it deserves. We will act for the continuance of the road-building of Highway 6 to Army City." Edri was speaking shortly after the festive inauguration of another 12 km. section of Highway 6. Minister of National Infrastructure Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said that in the next few days he would bring to the approval of the government two historical plans which, he said, reflected "the recognition of the Negev and the Arava as regions where the development of renewable energy and of increased energy efficiency were of high priority." He went on to say that as part of the first plan the ministry will operate to establish a new solar energy power station every year over the next 20 years, while the second plan focuses on economical ways to limit energy consumption. Finance Minister Roni Bar-On said that the mere general observation of the need to develop the country's periphery was not enough, and that the issue needed to be broken down into specifics before the finance ministry could provide funding. "I will not take part in a plan for the development of the periphery that is based only on transfer of financial resources. My responsibility as the finance minister is to make sure that a plan to develop the periphery takes into consideration fiscal limitations... "the acknowledgement that the periphery is an engine for economic growth is not a result of one governmental decision but rather a result of a long-term commitment. I am a full partner of this process and I believe in the periphery in general and in the Negev in specific," Bar-On said.