Negev and Galilee mayors brace for ministerial change

Negev and Galilee mayors

With rumors circulating about a possible change of minister at the Development of the Negev and Galilee Ministry, mayors from the periphery said on Thursday that they would be sorry to see Silvan Shalom leave if the move comes about, but that they would welcome ex-Kadima MK Eli Aflalo warmly as long as he continued to work to promote the interests of outlying areas. Aflalo, who quit Kadima last week, is being considered for ministerial post if he agrees to join Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition. The ministry has refused to comment on the rumors. "We are proceeding as usual," said the ministry spokeswoman. Many mayors refused to address what is currently still a rumor, and are waiting to see what the next few days will bring. But some were willing to express an opinion. "In the eight months that Silvan Shalom has been in office, he has done a great job and we have seen complete commitment on his part to the needs of the Galilee and Negev. It is impossible to replace such an important portfolio because of political dealings. There are long-term plans in place and they should be seen out properly," was the message received from Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso. "Nothing has been decided yet, but we do know that Shalom has been extremely helpful since he came into office, and we have witnessed real progress," said Karmiel Mayor Adi Eldar. "The development of these two regions must be the government's top priority and anybody who takes on the job must have the ability to effect change." "Safed and its mayor, Ilan Shochat, are good friends with both Silvan Shalom and Eli Aflalo, whatever happens, happens," said city spokesman Shlomo Hadad. "We just hope that a transfer of power doesn't adversely affect the good things that are in the works, like the new medical school planned for the region," Hadad said. "Aflalo is a resident of Afula, so he knows about life in the Galilee. We hope that he will do his best to help us." Since its formation in 2005, the Negev and Galilee Ministry has seen three ministers: Shimon Peres, who established the portfolio and ran the ministry until June 2007, Ya'acov Edri, who held the portfolio for Kadima, and Shalom, who took office on April 1. The ministry is responsible for the promotion of the Negev and the Galilee, with the Authority for the Development of the Negev and the Authority for the Development of the Galilee as its executive arms. Their activities include advancing projects in the fields of employment, industry, tourism, education, housing, culture, settlement activity and infrastructures. Shalom has repeatedly stated that his goal for the periphery is to bring 300,000 new residents to the Negev and a similar number to the Galilee by the year 2020. Aflalo served as immigrant absorption minister from July 2008 until the Netanyahu government was sworn into office in March of this year.