Recent right-wing complaints that the government is impotent when it comes to implementing plans to settle Jews in the Negev, supposedly out of fear of public criticism, are unfounded. Facts on the ground make it clear that the government is working tirelessly to make the desert bloom.
Since the beginning of the last decade, the government has approved the establishment of more than 20 new communities in the Negev and another three communities in the Lachish region, which borders the northern part of the Negev.
Some of the communities have already been established, among them Giv’ot Bar, north of Be’er Sheva, and Merhav Am, in the center of the Negev. In the region of Nitzana, the government approved the establishment of another three communities. North of Nitzana, it gave its seal of approval to dozens of ranches spread out over the area, which in practice are little spots for Jewish settlement.
The Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization is working hard on the planning of 10 communities in the region of Arad, following a government decision on the issue. Next to them, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish city, to be named Kassif, is due to be built.
In the area of Yatir, the establishment of two communities, named Hiran and Karmit, have already been approved. The founding group of Hiran settlers has published a leaflet calling for plans to allot a large tract of land to Bedouin to be scrapped - in what it called “the struggle against Bedouin takeover.”
In fact, when it comes to the Bedouin settlement, things move at a much slower pace. A decade ago, the government decided to address the issue of unrecognized villages by regulating Bedouin settlement in the Negev. Since that decision, 10 Bedouin communities have received government recognition, about a quarter of all Bedouin communities. Recognition of these communities did not solve the basic problem, since without resolving Bedouin ownership claims over the land, it is not possible to develop the land for the communities or receive legal building permits for the houses that already exist. By contrast, Jewish residents settling the Negev move from legally-recognized communities to new communities where the homes and infrastructure are already built and are legally approved for use.
Jewish settlement in the Negev reached a new high about two weeks ago, when the National Planning and Building Council approved the establishment of the community of Sheizaf, near the offices of the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council. According to a planning memo prepared ahead of the approval, there are unoccupied housing units in nearby communities. Nevertheless, the memo recommended establishing the community.
Samuel Rifman, the head of the Ramat Negev Regional Council says that alongside the use of existing communities to absorb new residents, the establishment of a new community was justified. because the area was already slated for development. “The metropolitan area of Be’er sheva must be developed and it's possible to take care of both Bedouin and Jewish communities,” said Rifman. In the meantime, the settlement bodies and government ministries continue to look for more sites appropriate for settlement. The Housing Ministry has already found several such sites between Dimona and Be’er Sheva.