TEL AVIV — As Israel prepares for the Gaza pullout and presses Washington for an unprecedented $2 billion supplemental aid package to help develop its outlying regions, Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres is urging American Jews to support his government on both fronts.
In an interview with the Forward, Peres said that Israel’s plan to shift its priorities from building Gaza and West Bank settlements to developing the Galilee and the Negev — Israel’s respective northern and southern peripheries — signifies a recognition of past misguided policies and a return to the original Zionist vision. Israel, he said, is “waking up from baseless dreams to a new reality” that requires rolling back the Jewish settlement enterprise in the territories.
“We have invested vast funds in the settlements, which were utterly lost. So we are now leaving Gaza and building Israel,” Peres said, sitting in his Tel Aviv office. “We will also leave vast areas in [the West Bank] and build Israel, an Israel of peace and security and advanced technology.” Israel plans to invest $5 billion in five years in roads, railways, education and job-creation projects in the northern and southern regions, where poverty and unemployment are much deeper than in Israel’s central, most highly populated areas. Israel has presented its plan to senior Bush administration officials and signaled that it intends to ask Washington for up to $2.1 billion in aid for the Negev and the Galilee. Another $1.5 billion will come from the Israeli budget. The rest of the money Israel hopes to raise from private investors, mostly overseas.
The push to develop the Negev and the Galilee is a “battle for the future of the Jewish people” that requires significantly more American Jewish support, said Peres, who is coordinating his government’s efforts to develop the two regions.