"If I weren’t a politician, I’d say it is a district full of sex appeal," Peres says at Negev Conference.
By RON FRIEDMAN
Nearly 800 people attended the Negev Conference in Beersheba on Tuesday, which focused on bringing 300,000 residents to the area by 2020.The conference, which was organized by the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry, the Beersheba Municipality and the Merage Fund, hosted President Shimon Peres and a delegation of cabinet ministers, as well as MKs, business leaders and philanthropists.“The Negev has experienced a real transformation,” said Peres. “Once it was a distant province, and today it is a drawing force. If I weren’t a politician, I’d say it is a district full of sex appeal.”Peres said he was glad that David Ben-Gurion’s vision for the Negev had not yet been implemented.“If it had been achieved, the Negev would have been an old and tired place by now. The fact that it is becoming developed now, in a new era, means that it is the region of the future,” he said.Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom said his ministry, “in collaboration with other ministries, invested NIS 200 million in the Negev last year.”“in recent years, there has been a change in priorities. As finance minister, I brought Highway 6 here and made it free for residents of the South. The train to Beersheba was also approved when I was finance minister. A lot of things are being done here, and there’s a lot more left to do,” he said.AdvertisementFinance Minister Yuval Steinitz spoke about the plans in progress to transfer massive IDF bases from the Center to the Negev, saying this would radically transform the region.Steinitz also said his ministry was working on a plan to provide tax reductions for businesses that relocated to the Negev. He said it would act to bring commerce and industry to the Beduin communities, too – without which, the local economy could not flourish.Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman said that if the government failed to find solutions to Beduin’s land claims and other concerns, the development of the Negev would not be complete.Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias spoke about the large demand for plots in the Negev. He said that his ministry was acting to market land as fast as it could, but that it would take time. “It is possible to provide more housing units than we are at the moment, but this is not a bakery where you put dough in the oven and it comes out bread. We need the land to be zoned and permits issued, and that takes time,” said Attias.He added that the government had chosen to release plots by holdinglotteries instead of calling for the highest bidders, because it wouldkeep housing costs lower.Shmulik Rifman, chairman of the Negev Development Authority, spoke outharshly against Israel Railways’ delay in constructing a second trackto Beersheba; the government’s foot-dragging on implementing therecommendations of the Goldberg Committee on the Beduin land claims;the environmental groups’ interference in land development; and theDefense Ministry’s waffling on moving the army’s intelligence units tothe South.Other people cited the cancellation of tax benefits for residents ofBeersheba, and nearly everyone spoke of the acute shortage ofwell-paying jobs.“We have a wonderful university in Beersheba. The faculty is great, thestudents are great, but they have nowhere to work after theirgraduation,” said Smadar Cohen, head of the Biotechnology Department atBen-Gurion University of the Negev.
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