The State will invest in the establishment of a new network of communities for families evicted from Gaza during the 2005 disengagement, the cabinet decided unanimously Tuesday morning. This will be done by building in seven towns, some of them new, in the east Lahish area of the Negev.
The network of communities – Amtzia, Haruv, Shekef, Hazan, Mersham, Shomria and Karmit – will be based heavily on agriculture, tourism and development of local industry. It is hoped that in addition to absorbing Gush Katif refugees, the bloc of towns will attract other groups.
"This is a settlement within the Green Line, which has great significance. Today, some hundred Israeli families live there, while on the other side of the Green Line in this area there is increased Palestinian settlement," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during the meeting.
"This region has great potential and we are interested in settling there and turning it into one of the greatest areas of Zionist development of the 21st century," he said.
"I envision a settlement of 10,000 Israelis, only a half-hour drive from central Israel on an intra-state highway, an area covered in green, with a stunning view."
Among Israelis who have expressed a desire to move are 200 former Gush Katif families and families interested in taking part in the local tourist industry.
Development plans for the area, discussed by the ministers during the meeting, include the building of guest houses and the planting of vineyards. In the first phase of the project, 500 housing units will be built and the area will be granted a NIS 300 million (about $72.7 million) development budget. The projected completion date is the beginning of 2009.
Additionally, the State plans to build a new road – at a cost of NIS 200 million (about $48.5 million) – to connect the towns to the highways towards Beersheba and Kiryat Gat.
"The development of a new community in Israel is true excitement. It's even more exciting when one is speaking of seven communities, which will transform a sparsely populated region into a pearl of tourism and nationalism," Olmert said at the conclusion of the meeting.