Photo Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom / GPO
Israel's government cabinet, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meets in Eilat. Aug. 4 2019

Israel’s government this Sunday approved a half-billion shekel ($1.42 billion) plan to develop the city of Eilat and the surrounding Hevel Eilot Regional Council district.

First on the list was a vote to approve retention of the city’s VAT exemption – no sales tax in Eilat.

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“The first thing that we are dealing with is, first of all, health services,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at an open government cabinet meeting held on Sunday in the city.

“We are going to upgrade [the health services] with over NIS 150 million. We will upgrade the transportation infrastructure. We will establish tourist centers and we will make the coastal strip accessible to the public and improve it.

“Perhaps the most important thing that we are going to establish here is a park to develop food from the sea. This is the food of the future,” Netanyahu claimed. “We cannot continue feeding humanity with protein from the land. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It pollutes and it is difficult. It will certainly remain but the protein of the future will be synthetic protein. However, that will take time until we know if it can exist.

“What certainly exists is the ability to take small fish that – in the sea – turn into big fish. This is the food technology of tomorrow – and it is already here.

There are two companies here in Eilat. We are going to form a concern and establish a center here that will provide Eilat with an extraordinary future. I want to turn Eilat into a center of knowledge and sea-based food technology.”

Netanyahu went on to say the government would establish a team to evaluate the entry of international companies to operate internal flights to Eilat, saying it would mean an immediate lowering of prices.

“This is great news for the development of competition, increasing tourism and flights to Eilat, and lowering prices,” the prime minister contended.

Netanyahu also said the cabinet would establish on Sunday a ministerial committee on Eilat affairs, which he will chair. “I intend to closely monitor implementation of the decisions and to verify the full implementation of what we decide,” he said, but did not elaborate what the specific agenda of the committee would be.

The aforesaid plan was formulated at the behest of the prime minister, his office said in a release, and was led by Prime Minister’s Office Acting Director General Ronen Peretz in cooperation with Tourism, Transportation and Road Safety, Agriculture, Economy and Industry, Environmental Protection and Defense ministries. The plan includes major budgetary investments in – inter alia – health, tourism, transportation and employment.

The plan was submitted for Cabinet approval following staff work in which the needs of the city were considered, as well as the tools necessary for its economic development, so as to improve quality of life for residents of the region and develop the city’s growth engines for the benefit of its residents.

“It is anticipated that the plan will lead to an improvement in health services for the residents of Eilat; the upgrading of transportation services and highways; an increase in the number of tourists visiting the city; the establishment of Eilat as an international research and application center for sea-based food and biotechnology, and aquaculture; and an increase in – and variation of – sources of employment in the region,” the statement from the PMO said.

“And there is another thing – we are going to continue to move forward on the planning for a railway line from the center of the country to Eilat,” Netanyahu added during his meeting in Eilat, referring to a plan that has been on the table for years.

“This vision will also be realized. Eilat has a bright future. All Israelis share in the desire to see this future arrive as quickly as quickly as possible.”

Perhaps so – but that last vision is certainly a long time in coming; if a similar promise made to the Negev city of Arad is any measure, that vow will take decades before the promised rail line ever connects its destined city to any hub in central Israel.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.