Chaos engulfs government as Israel approves five new Negev towns

A screaming match broke out between left-wing and right-wing ministers as the Israeli government approved the construction of five new towns in the northern Negev region.

 Prime Miniser Naftali Bennett with Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg during a plenum session at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on February 28, 2022 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Prime Miniser Naftali Bennett with Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg during a plenum session at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on February 28, 2022
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

A heated debate broke out between Israeli ministers after the government approved the construction of five new towns in the Negev in Sunday's cabinet meeting.

The move, which was heavily pushed by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Elkin following the Beersheba terror attack that killed four Israelis, will see five new towns built in the northern Negev region named Mevo'ot Arad.

Following a recommendation by the National Council for Planning and Construction, it was decided that one of the new towns will be designated for the Negev's Bedouin community.

Left-wing Israeli ministers, spearheaded by Meretz's Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, vehemently rejected the construction of new northern Negev towns, a move that Zandberg called "destructive and worrisome."

During the cabinet meeting, a screaming match broke out between Zandberg and Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who labeled Zandberg and other left-wing ministers as "hateful towards the Jewish settlement" of the Land of Israel.

GIDEON SA'AR arrives at the Knesset ahead of the vote and swearing in of the 36th government, June 13, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)GIDEON SA'AR arrives at the Knesset ahead of the vote and swearing in of the 36th government, June 13, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

"The frenzy of establishing settlements is a waste of land and resources," Zandberg wrote on Twitter following the cabinet meeting. "The new towns will be costly, especially in the midst of a housing crisis and high costs of living."

The new towns will also "harm open spaces and natural systems in the Negev," a destructive move at a time of a climate crisis, the environmental protection minister added.

Zandberg also replied to Sa'ar's words at the cabinet meeting on Twitter, saying that his words "echoed the discourse of incitement and hatred" that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government sought to eliminate from Israeli life. "The competition of who is more Zionist is irrelevant...Responsible Zionism does not mean taking up as much land as possible but to ensure a high quality of life to all Israeli citizens."

Ayelet Shaked reacted to the approval in an interview given to KAN News, claiming it to be one of the most "exciting and historic" decisions made in her political career. "Settling in the Negev is of enormous importance to the Zionist movement," the interior minister stated.

It is also "strategically significant" to Israel's consolidation of its sovereignty in the Negev, Shaked said. In January, thousands of Bedouin citizens protested the planting of trees done by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), which they argued was unfairly encroaching on the lands of the Al-Atrash clan that Israel says is state land.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel rejected the construction of five new Negev towns in a statement following the cabinet meeting: "No logical planning has gone into this decision," the statement reads.

"Environmentally, economically and socially there is a clear and unequivocal priority for the expansion and consolidation of existing towns."

The Joint List also issued a response condemning the decision, calling it part of a "project to displace Arab residents of the Negev," which the faction branded as an example of apartheid.

"The move goes against the recommendation of experts and will bring needless destruction to the people of the Negev and the environment.  The right-wing section of the government is running amok as the left-wing 'Zionists' sit in silence."