How to Transform the Negev into Disneyland

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Within four years, with a budget of NIS 3-4 billion, it would be possible to open Israel’s next airport at Nevatim ■ Its contribution to the region in employment and solutions for disadvantaged populations would far surpass the benefit from the Ramat David Airport.

Roni Flamer

The year is 2030. Be’er Sheva already has 400,000 residents; Arad, Kuseife, Hura, Meitar, Dimona, Arara and other cities in the Negev have tripled their population; the Nevatim international employment area is the workplace of more than 50,000 employees in digital healthcare, logistics (Amazon has opened its Center for Africa and Asia in Israel), Desert Tech and more.

Be’er Sheva has transformed words into action and grew from being home for 3,000 cyber workers to a powerhouse with 25,000 people employed there. More than half of university’s students decide to remain in the city, and the innovation district will soon be populated; in two months, the fourth largest Disney park in the world will be inaugurated in Dimona, with the Arara local council in the Negev as a full partner in the park. Following opening of the Nevatim‎ Airport, a formula was found for recognizing land for a majority of the Bedouin population, and the value of land in the region that was once considered the “Wild South” has become attractive.

This is not a distant dream, but a vision just moments from realization. In recent months, after years of efforts, we are seeing the light at the “end of the country.” Professionals, party leaders and government officials are reading the plans, reviewing the schedules and costs, and realizing that there is a once-in-a-century opportunity to transform the Negev and the entire country. Even in the field of aviation, we are not looking far enough ahead, and thinking outside the box: We need to understand that with the birthrate in Israel, the decline in airfares and the increase in passengers, we can reach 50 million passengers/year in a decade. Today, more than 25 million passengers already fly to and from Israel each year, and lacking competition, our only international airport, which is not managing the burden, can charge any price.

I have been living in Yeruham for several years, but I love both the Galilee and the Negev. Initially, I favored establishing Israel’s second international airport at Ramat David. “There should also be something for the Galilee,” I said, as did other supporters. In that spirit, a host of committees were established in Israel and experts were hired from abroad, at great cost, to promote the airport at Ramat David. However, because implementation is more important to us than declarations of intent, we checked the facts.

Ramat David is a relatively small military airport. Converting it to an international, civilian airport would require investing more than NIS 20 billion. Its construction would require expropriating agricultural land and water reservoirs, a process that would cost approximately NIS 2 billion, and do more harm than good to residents of the densely populated region. Many interested parties and stakeholders would drag the construction process to court, in several jurisdictions, and it could take 15 years or longer to overcome all obstacles and prepare the conditions for constructing an airport at Ramat David.

Conversely, the Nevatim‎ Airport is available, from every perspective. A civilian runway has already been built (the Americans built it when they enlarged the military base, with a large investment), and within four years, Israel's next airport could be opened at budget of only NIS 3-4 billion. Its contribution to developing employment and solutions for disadvantaged populations in the region would be immeasurably larger than the benefit of the northern solution.

If we desire life, we definitely must find solutions for investing in the Galilee, in addition to investing in the Negev. Israel’s aviation plan needs to be constructed for a capacity of roughly 75 million passengers annually. The world is becoming increasingly more global, and the number of passengers will skyrocket. The decision must be modified, and the runway in Haifa extended at least enough for it to serve European destinations, and we also need to start considering the next international airport, whether it is in the Golan or the Galilee

There are few times in history where everything comes together: the transfer of intelligence units to the south, the growth of Be‘er Sheva and other cities of the south – now the only thing missing is the Archimedean point to facilitate a leap to the next level.



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