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The government is expected to approve a proposal calling for the creation of 10 new communities in the desert area around the town of Arad. The project is a new settlement program that is opposed by both the Environmental Protection Ministry and environmental groups and has aroused concern among Bedouin in the area.

The Environment Ministry has argued that the better option would be to expand existing communities in the area rather than establishing new ones, since the area is of great ecological importance.

According to the proposal, prepared by the Prime Minister's Office and the Housing and Construction Ministry, a string of village-type communities will be set up on the outskirts of the desert town of Arad. The proposal is described as part of a "Zionist vision for making the Negev flourish, and in line with the government's policies of development, progress, attracting the population to the periphery and increasing the availability of housing."

The program includes the transfer of an IDF base from central Israel to the Negev, which is expected to be carried out in the near future. The new communities are expected to provide housing for families of career officers who serve in bases in the Negev.

The overall plan is for the construction of some 1,500 housing units in 10 communities.

The planning, which will be carried out over a two-month period, will involve analysis of possible employment opportunities and entrepreneurship in the area, as well as the cost for the infrastructure that is needed. Planners will also examine the impact of the new communities on the area and assess the demand for housing in the Arad region.

Following the completion of the work the recommendations will be presented to the National Planning and Building Council, which will examine its implications and present its own recommendations to the government.

There already is a plan to establish a city for the ultra-Orthodox near Arad which will be called Kasif.

The government also approved the settlement of Bedouin in the area. But the government proposal will enable only some of the unrecognized Bedouin communities in the area to be legalized. For example, Bedouin in the community of Umm al-Hirn believe that they will have to evacuate their homes in favor of the new communities which are being planned by the government.

Environment Minister Gilad Erdan already announced his opposition to the new initiative because of its possible impact on the environment. According to a document of the planning division of the ministry, the area of Arad has a number of existing communities as well as others whose development has already been approved. These could be developed to meet housing demand, without building new infrastructure or damaging open, natural spaces.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel is also opposed to the proposal. "It is very important to keep a contiguous area of open spaces and the vistas surrounding the area," says the organization. "Bolstering the already existing communities is a national priority and therefore it is proper to invest all the attention and the resources to absorbing new families and developing jobs in these communities."