How to revive Israel's economy? The answer is in the South

The Negev, which makes up 60% of Israel’s territory, is Israel’s “land of opportunity.”

An F-35i Adir jet in Nevatim base, southeast of Beersheba (photo credit: IDF)
An F-35i Adir jet in Nevatim base, southeast of Beersheba
(photo credit: IDF)
The COVID-19 pandemic is deepening inequality around the world. Israel is no exception. It is clear that the economic and geographic periphery will suffer most from the devastating economic shock of the crisis. 
Policymakers are facing unprecedented pressure to deliver quick economic wins and short-term solutions. However, for the government to succeed in reviving the economy, it must consider long-term measures for inclusive growth. It must invest in the development of sustainable quality jobs and innovation on a massive scale, such that will help reduce these gaps and lift the economy across the country. 
There is no better example of a long-term, high-impact investment than the establishment of a second international airport in Nevatim in the Negev. The Negev, which makes up 60% of Israel’s territory, is Israel’s “land of opportunity.” The discussion on the establishment of a second international airport is more important and relevant today than ever. 
There is no doubt that this important move will create quality jobs and infrastructure, increase the flow of international tourists, and, most importantly, lead to extensive economic growth and prosperity in the region. 
In 2050, Israel will have a population of 17 million, and will face one of the most significant challenges since its establishment: its population will double. The high cost of living, endless traffic jams and the growing shortage of adequate social infrastructure in the central region is already driving many young people away from the busy center. 
Many of them find their new home in the Negev, which has enjoyed a positive migration trend since 2015. The Negev, with its large land reserves, is the area with the greatest potential for population growth. An international airport will become a unique economic anchor, both during its construction and its subsequent operation. 
The good news is that the infrastructure is already in place. Thanks to a huge government investment, the Nevatim Airport already counts with a civilian area, separated from the military field. As a result, the investment required to turn Nevatim into a fully operational international airport is minimal compared to any other alternative, both in terms of time and budget. The Nevatim Airport also has the necessary space for any future expansion required for decades to come, with a capacity of many more than 20 million passengers a year. 
There is no doubt that the Nevatim Airport can become one of the important engines of economic recovery and growth during this unprecedented challenging period. Decision-makers must consider all national, demographic, economic and employment implications and put them to the test in the face of the veto arguments of the Defense Ministry and the Israel Air Force. 
As someone who is deeply involved in the Negev’s regional economic development, I call on decision-makers to make the most strategic and effective decision, for the benefit of the residents of the Negev and the entire country, now, more than ever.
The writer is the executive director of the Merage Foundation.