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Blueprint for Western Galilee seeks to double population, develop coastal areas

New master plan for region delivers ambitious projects to attract residents, grow economy

An aerial view of Rameh, an Arab town in the western Galilee, August 20, 2018. (Matanya Tausig/Flash90)
An aerial view of Rameh, an Arab town in the western Galilee, August 20, 2018. (Matanya Tausig/Flash90)

A new master plan consisting of some 60 projects to further develop the Western Galilee is being considered by decision-makers in the Ministry of Construction and Housing.

The plan seeks to strengthen existing communities and the local economy, growing the population from about 300,000 to over 600,000 within the next 20 years. It envisages the Western Galilee becoming a leader in blue technology — technology that makes use of water resources — and in food technology, a growing area of interest globally in which Israel is playing a leading role.

The Western Galilee region includes the area north of Haifa, through the cities of Acre, Nahariya, Ma’alot-Tarshiha, and Rosh Hanikra, together with a large number of smaller towns in more rural areas. The region has a mixed Arab and Jewish population and maintaining that demographic make-up is stated as an important aim of the development plan.

Among the proposals are commitments to urban renewal, affordable housing, enhancements to the education system, the construction of industrial parks, better public transport, and support for agriculture.

Growing tourism to the area is also seen as an important goal that can help move the regional economy forward. Planners will look at developing the coastal areas, as well as historical sites, and allowing wider access to natural spaces in the area by expanding footpaths and bike paths alongside the streams.

The plan also recognizes the distinctive features of the Western Galilee, described as “a sense of community.” While the plan looks to encourage migration to the region, particularly by entrepreneurs and others who can create jobs, it emphasizes the importance of maintaining that sense of community and a lifestyle that is different from other parts of the country.

The plans have taken around two years to develop, with joint work from the Ministry of Construction and Housing, the Northern Planning Bureau, local government, businesses, and other stakeholders in the area.

Its delivery will depend on support from the relevant government ministries for key elements of regional development.

Aviad Friedman, director-general of the Ministry of Construction and Housing, said “the master plan will benefit the whole region and therefore… the whole country. The program will significantly improve the quality of life of northern residents and open up a variety of opportunities for employment, research, development, and leisure.”

Late last year, the cabinet unanimously approved a NIS 1 billion ($317 million) development plan to encourage demographic and economic growth in the Golan Heights. The stated goal was to reach 100,000 residents in the Golan Regional Council and the Katzrin Local Council in the coming years.

Currently, some 53,000 people live in the Golan Heights: 27,000 Jews, 24,000 Druze, and some 2,000 Alawites (an ethnoreligious group originating from Shia Islam and a minority sect to which Syria’s ruling family, the Assads, belong).

Apart from the United States, the international community regards the Golan as part of Syria, which lost the territory in the 1967 Six Day War. Israel annexed the Golan in 1981.

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