Cabinet advances plans to create new Negev towns

Green groups argue government would be wiser to strengthen existing southern communities.

Northen Negev 311 (photo credit: SPNI Open Landscape Institute)
Northen Negev 311
(photo credit: SPNI Open Landscape Institute)
To the dismay of green groups, the government decided to move forward with an initiative to construct 10 new northern Negev communities in its weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.
“The government decided to begin administrative work on examining settlement development in the outskirts of Arad,” read a statement from the cabinet secretary’s official Facebook page on Sunday evening, “in order to attract a new population to the Negev by increasing the housing supply in the area.”
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Both Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) had sent letters to all cabinet members prior to the meeting, in an attempt to convince them to vote against the proposed development. Instead, both argued, the government should be focusing on expanding housing and infrastructures within already existing cities and communities in the northern Negev region.
“Strengthening the Negev is a national mission, which must be done by condensing existing communities and not by establishing new ones,” SPNI said in a statement in response to the cabinet secretary’s release.
The Settlements Division of the World Zionist Organization, which said it will be responsible for planning 10 new northern Negev communities as a result of the cabinet decision, argued that the development will “give life” to the region.
“The government decision to allow the Settlements Division to advance its detailed planning and submission to the National Planning and Construction Committee is a vote of confidence in settling the periphery and in the activity of the Settlement Division in particular,” said a statement from Yaron Ben-Ezra, head of the division, which operates under the Prime Minister’s Office.
Prior to the vote, Erdan had submitted a letter to cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser on Thursday, objecting to the proposal and calling the establishment of the new communities “inconsistent” with the findings of the Trajtenberg Committee on Socioeconomic Change, which emphasized the importance of “strengthening weak populations in cities.”
This decision will cause harm, Erdan wrote, and contribute to “the weakening of existing cities in the Negev, for example: Arad, Dimona and Beersheba, and thusly will result in the unnecessary destruction of the environment and of open spaces,” Erdan wrote.
“It is clear that the proposed decision is not an activity oriented toward the application of the Trajtenberg Report, but is completely contrary to it, and its implementation will bring a deepening of social gaps in the Negev and the weakening of existing communities.”
Stressing his disapproval for further desecration of open spaces, Erdan called the land in question a “transition region between the desert area and the Mediterranean area, whose ecological sensitivity is very high.”
SPNI had also distributed a letter among cabinet ministers on Thursday, agreeing that the creation of new Negev towns would inevitably cause damage to the current communities.
“In the development of new communities there is a widespread environmental impact, as opposed to the thickening of existing communities, whose expansion impacts the environment to a much lesser extent,” SPNI had said prior to the vote.
“Condensing the existing settlements in the Negev is a national mission, and therefore it is appropriate to set aside full attention and resources to the absorption of new families and developing income sources within existing cities and communities.”