Cabinet Approves NIS 500M Plan to Strengthen Southern Israel

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett arrives for a weekly Cabinet meeting at his office in the Knesset, Sunday. (Ariel Schalit/Pool via REUTERS)

The Cabinet on Sunday approved the plan formulated by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman to strengthen the communities of the Negev in the framework of the move of IDF bases to the south.

In recent months, on instruction from Prime Minister Bennett, staff work has been carried out on the issue in light of the fact that the latent economic potential in moving IDF bases to the Negev has yet to be fully utilized in terms of both demographic growth and the desired quality of life, despite the many resources that have been allocated in recent years and the relative development of the south of the country.

Moreover, there are still considerable wage disparities between the Be’er Sheva area and the center of the country.

Given the foregoing and due to the delay in moving the IDF bases, it has been decided to take a series of steps to socio-economically strengthen the communities of the Negev – the target communities and Be’er Sheva – and to resolve the rapid transportation issue for service personnel who will be traveling to the Negev until the bases are populated.

Following is an excerpt from Prime Minister Bennett’s remarks at the start of the Cabinet meeting:

“We are submitting a decision on significant assistance to Be’er Sheva and the communities of the Negev today. We will invest almost NIS 500 million in education, employment, reducing wage gaps, planning a public hospital, strengthening technology and innovation, developing transportation and creating rapid transportation from the center of the country to the south, infrastructures and the list is still long. I am pleased by this important decision, which expresses the policy of the government. We have spoken about investing in the Negev and here it is happening on the ground. As Ben Gurion said, ‘The people of Israel will be tested in the Negev.'”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz:

“The plan expresses the significant integration between the IDF and Israeli society, and the need to strengthen national infrastructure and national needs through the defense establishment and all civilian establishments. I congratulate and thank the many government ministries that have joined in this national mission. At the same time, we will continue to strengthen the south and the north by various means and, within a few years, we will bring about a situation in which a third of those serving in technological units will all be from the social and geographical periphery. Along with promoting the move, we will complete the entire plan for those serving, and in this framework, a rapid transportation solution for arriving [at] bases and incentives for Negev communities.”

Following are the main points of the plan:

  • NIS 40 million to plan a public hospital in the Negev
  • NIS 150 million to create a military-academic-industrial ecosystem:

Expanding Ben Gurion University with emphasis on high tech, cyber and computer sciences

Cooperation in research and development between the university, Soroka Medical Center and IDF technological units

Developing core areas of the Desert Teck innovation quarter in Be’er Sheva – digital health and cyber

Training residents of the area, especially the unique populations, in a ‘8200 College’ format

Developing the Be’er Sheva innovation quarter: Designing a construction plan, work spaces and a public area

  • NIS 90 million to fully utilize the opportunities for integrating the residents of the south in the regional development process:

A southern venue for training nurses and increasing the potential in the south for medical students

Strengthening technological education

Developing cyber and science tracks

Improving health services: Encouraging immigrant doctors, boosting positive competition between HMOs in the south, etc.

Developing cultural activities that are economically viable and which have a cultural return

  • NIS 65 million to encourage positive migration to the south, planning and development:

Development grants for local councils and for developing the Be’er Sheva metropolitan area

Formulating a multiyear plan for residential units for long-term rent

Grants for building rental housing and for rent assistance

Subsidizing ground development

Training plans for spouses who move to the Negev

  • NIS 70 million for developing transportation and infrastructures:

Advancing the availability of a light rail between Be’er Sheva and Lakiya

Completing statutory planning for the Goral Rail Project

Advancing the project for fast railway lines between Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva