Gov’t Set to Spend NIS 1B to Double Golan Heights Population

View of the sunset in the border area between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)

The government will convene on Sunday to approve a plan to double the population of the Golan Heights and that of the unofficial capital of the region, Katzrin.

At the meeting, to be held at Kibbutz Mevo Chama in the Golan, government members are set to approve upgrades to existing infrastructure, the establishment of new communities and neighborhoods, and the creation of around 2,000 jobs in an effort to transform the Golan into Israel’s renewable energy capital.

The government plans to invest NIS 1 billion ($317 million) in the plan, a joint effort of the Housing and Construction, Interior, Transportation, Tourism, Economy, Agriculture, Education and Environmental Protection Ministries, as well as the Israel Land Authority. In recent months, the inter-ministerial team, headed by the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Yair Pines, formulated the details of the plan.

Once approved, the plan will see NIS 576 million ($183 million) allotted toward planning and housing, including the approval of the construction of 3,300 housing units within five years in Katzrin.

Around 4,000 homes are set to be approved for the Golan Regional Council. In total, the plan is expected to lead to an increase of 23,000 residents in the Golan region.

In addition, the government intends to establish two new communities in the Golan, Assif and Matar, each of which will include some 2,000 housing units. To secure investment in the housing field, the government will establish a special planning committee, promote a comprehensive plan for Katzrin, and execute plans to free up military firing zones and remove landmines in the area. The government will allocate NIS 160 million ($51 million) toward improving quality of life in the Golan, including through improvements to transportation infrastructure connecting the region to the rest of the country, as well as developing transportation infrastructure between the Golan’s various communities and Katzrin.

The government is further expected to approve the upgrade of emergency medical services and expansion of the frontline medical call center activity in Katrzin, the development of cybersecurity leadership in Katzrin, as well as expansive investment in both formal and informal education. In addition, efforts will be made to develop tourism infrastructure, including through the paving of bicycle lanes, the provision of grants for entrepreneurs in the hotel industry, as well as the marketing of new hotel complexes.

The government will also establish infrastructure to connect a planned food-tech center in the Galilee city of Kiryat Shmona. In addition, the government will also approve unprecedented funding toward the creation of some 2,000 jobs in the Golan in the fields of agricultural technology, industrial agriculture, and the hotel industry.

Likewise, the government intends to raise hundreds of millions of shekels in the private sector toward solar energy projects, including the creation of energy storage systems.

Portions of the program, which is unprecedented in scope, are expected to meet with opposition from some Golan residents who oppose efforts to grow the region’s population. Environmental groups are also expected to oppose steps, such as the stationing of wind turbines, which will disrupt nature in the region.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar told Israel Hayom: “The government decision that will be brought to a vote on Sunday is the realization of New Hope’s coalition agreement to promote and budget national plans for the bolstering and development of the North, including unique plans for the development of the Golan Heights and the city of Katzrin that will be anchored in government decisions.

“The future of the Golan will be determined with actions and not words. We have an opportunity to determine for generations the Golan’s future as an inseparable part of the State of Israel… We are determining a realistic goal: doubling the population in the Golan.”