Housing Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) praised the cabinet’s approval on Sunday of his plan to establish five new towns in the southern Negev desert, saying that the move “is necessary for strengthening the [state’s] hold on lightly populated territories that have national significance in the Negev.”

Galant said that the establishment of the towns expressed “our responsibility to bring about a settling of the Negev, to increase possibilities for employment and tourism there, and to turn it into a desired and flourishing area, in accordance with the Zionist vision.”

The planned communal villages include Shelach, Neve Gurion, Eshel Hanasi, Vadia and Daniel — named after the late Daniel Tragerman, a four-year-old boy who was killed by mortar fire during the 2014 Gaza war.

The proposal, foreseeing opposition by environmental groups to more building in the desert, plans to establish the new towns near existing infrastructure in order to minimize damage to land and the environment.

Daniel Tragerman (photo credit: Courtesy)

Daniel Tragerman (photo credit: Courtesy)

The government plan was created in collaboration with the Southern Forum, which includes cities, authorities and organizations of the Negev.

Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabai (Kulanu), the only cabinet member to oppose the move, said that the new villages would weaken the struggling southern development towns and put a burden on the planning authorities, which should be helping the older towns instead of establishing new ones, the business daily The Marker reported.

Galant rebuffed the criticism, saying that the new towns would not hurt existing communities. “In addition to building the new towns, we will continue to strengthen the older towns by increasing the number of housing units within their borders, in order to strengthen the whole Negev and all forms of settlement in it,” he said.