The Fifth Conference on the Development of the Negev and Galilee has been told that there are plans for 10 new settlements in the Negev Desert. This comes at a time when the Israeli government is moving towards the implementation of the Prawer Plan for uprooting and displacing the indigenous Arab people of the region.
According to the reports presented in the conference, the Israeli authorities have established 9 settlements in the Negev over the past few year: Shlomit, Naveh, Bnei Netzarim, Bnei Dekalim, Eliab, Netaa, Hiran, Kermit and Yezhov. The conference agenda covered job creation and new army bases and training centres as well as settlements and plans for a new international airport.
Facilities are provided by the Israeli government to encourage Jews to move into the Negev. According to the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, there is an average of 100 residents in each settlement. Minister Silvan Shalom told the conference that his ministry will continue to establish settlements with the aim of bringing 300,000 Jews to the Negev and housing them in existing and new units. He said that he will continue to work towards changing the Negev into an important economic centre and pointed to the large number of projects for construction, schools and educational and cultural centres in Jewish communities to encourage Jews to settle in the Negev. New roads have been built connecting large industrial and commercial estates as part of the job creation scheme, he said.
"We are working on providing houses for university students so that they continue to reside in the Negev after their studies," added Shalom, who believes that reinforcing settlement in the Negev is a national mission. He said that his ministry established the Israeli Settlement Council with Benhas Felerestein as its Director General; Felerestein is one of the leaders of the Gush Emunim settlement movement. Shalom pointed out that the Israeli government has invested 1.7 billion shekels in developing the Negev throughout the period 2009-2012, with 300 million shekels allocated to settlements.
According to Benhas Felereste, his office is presenting a 3-year plan worth 100 million shekels, aiming to establish temporary structures and individual farms. He called for an outpost under each tree, and boasted that the religious-nationalist settler movement is flourishing in the Negev. Some of the illegal settler-colonists who were evacuated from the Gaza Strip in 2004/5 have been provided with inducements to live in the Negev. Israeli soldiers are being tempted to settle there with privileges regarding land purchase and house rentals.