(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

The Ministerial Committee on Settlement Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, this morning (Tuesday), 28 August 2007, unanimously approved the establishment of a rural-community settlement district that will include seven – mostly new – communities in the eastern Lachish area. This historic decision combines the development of a region within the Land of Israel with a solution for Gush Katif evacuees. Five groups – including approximately 200 families from Gush Katif – have already expressed willingness to settle in the region. They will be joined by other families who are interested in becoming involved in tourism enterprises, including guesthouses and vineyards that will be developed there. 

The Government has decided that boosting settlement in the region is an important national interest that justifies budgetary allocations and providing appropriate incentives.  Five hundred residential units are planned in the first stage: 150 in Hazan, 100 in Shomriya, 60 in Mirsham, 60 in Amatzia, 70 in Haruv, 45 in Keramit and 20 in Shekef. The green and rural eastern Lachish region will be developed so as to enable residents to live in maximum comfort while maintaining its rural character. Road #358 will link the area to Be’er Sheva and Kiryat Gat (via Road #35). This will cost approximately NIS 200 million; work will begin forthwith.

Prime Minister Olmert said: "I welcome today’s decision. The time has come to stop talking and start doing. If developing a new community in Israel is genuinely exciting, how much more so the development of seven communities that will turn a thinly settled region into a genuine national and tourist treasure. This is settlement inside the Green Line, which is very significant.  Approximately 100 families live in the region today while Palestinian settlement increases beyond the Green Line. This region has great potential and we are interested in it becoming one of Zionism’s major developments in the 21st century. I foresee thousands of families in the area, which will be only 30 minutes from the center of the country on Highway #6 and which is both green and has especially scenic vistas. This region will be based on agriculture, tourism and local industry."

Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Ra’anan Dinur, who chaired the directors-general team that formulated the plan to strengthen the eastern Lachish region said: "We want to create strong settlement groups. This is one of the most prestigious areas in the country that the state can offer its residents. It has a rural character and is accessible to the center of the country."