Israel is hoping to funnel over half-a-million new residents to the Negev Desert in the next 20 years with a plan to build 11 cities in the southern region.
The initiative, which would bring some 640,000 people to the Negev, will be voted on by the government on Sunday.
According to a report on Army Radio, the project would aim to increase the percentage of Israel’s population living in the south from 8 percent to 15% by 2035.
The towns and villages are all projected to be relatively upper class, intended in part for career IDF officers who would move south along with key army facilities.
Five of the communities would be suburbs of the southern city of Arad, located just west of the Dead Sea, one of which would be planned as a Bedouin community. Four would be in the Merhavim region of southern Israel, adding approximately 1,000 families to the area.
Another four to six towns, plus an industrial area, would be along Route 25, the highway connecting Beersheba and Dimona.
Another town, to be named Bnei Gurion — after Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, who envisioned the Jewish settlement of the Negev — is planned between Kibbutzim Revivim and Retamim.
Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich struck out against the plan, sending a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders asking them not to bring the proposal to a vote before the cabinet.
Danilovich called on the government to instead invest the money for the new cities in existing towns to help bolster their populations.
The report didn’t give any indication of the projected cost of the plan.
The Negev Desert, which accounts for roughly 60% of Israel’s land area, is currently home to approximately 640,000 Israelis.
Earlier this month, the previously illegal town of Sheizaf was retroactively legalized by outgoing interior minister Gideon Sa’ar, and was planned to become a mixed religious-secular community with 250 housing units.