Jewish Agency Readies Plan to Foster a Zionist Majority'

The Jewish Agency is planning a multi-year program to encourage 200,000 people to move to the Galilee and another 150,000 to move to the Negev, and has thereby recast itself as concerned with guaranteeing a "Zionist majority" in those areas.

The plan will be presented today by the agency treasurer Shai Hermesh, a former head of the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, to the agency's board of governors. Last week the government approved part of the plan, deciding the World Zionist Organization's Settlement Division should establish 14 new settlements in the Negev, from south of Hebron to the Halutza dunes. Since the late 1970s, the settlement division has only worked beyond the Green Line, serving the pro-settlement policies of various governments.

Hermesh says the reason for the Negev plan is "to get around the problem that the government must act on behalf of all citizens of the State of Israel while the WZO is entitled to act for the sake of the Jewish people." He said he hopes the government grants the WZO's settlement division the same authority for the Galilee that it gave last week for the Negev project.

"But we won't wait for the government on this and will act on our own initiative to help existing settlements both in Galilee and the Negev," Hermesh said. A key innovation in the program is to help settlements with a "Zionist majority," meaning not necessarily only Jews, but settlements where the majority of residents "have shown their commitment to the state" through measures, for example, such as serving in the army.

"We'll enlist the support of Jewish communities around the world for the benefit of non-Jews who have shown their commitment to the state, including the Druze and those in the Bedouin community who have shared the security burden."

Hermesh also plans new funding for colleges in the Galilee and the Negev, particularly for dormitories, which he called "bottlenecks" in the growth of the regional colleges.