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JNF's Negev Plan Excites Israel's Leaders at Herzliya Conference

Ronald Lauder and Yehiel Leket at Herzliya Conference December 27, 2004 - New York and Jerusalem More than 1500 of the world’s top Jewish leaders attending Israel’s Herzliya Conference walked away with a renewed sense of excitement and passion for the future of Israel as JNF President Ronald S. Lauder presented a far reaching vision to bring 250,000 new residents to the Negev.

 In a panel discussion with JNK/KKL World Chairman Yehiel Leket, Ben Gurion University President Avishay Braverman, Ramat Hanegev Regional Council head Shmuel Rifman, Daroma CEO Haim Blumenblat, Rahat Mayor Talal Alkrinawi, and Israel Railways Chairman Moshe Leon, former Ambassador Lauder presented the plan “'Blueprint Negev' The Vision and the Reality” at the JNF National Leadership Conference in Los Angeles.

From Daroma, Blumenblat indicated that the plan to develop the Negev will succeed. “There is a real opportunity here. I don’t know if you feel it, but in the last few months, there is an atmosphere of change. Something is moving, people want to improve their way of life, and this opportunity needs to be taken advantage of,” he said.

JNF has a track record of turning visions into reality. For example, trees were planted by JNF in desert areas where people did not think they would survive. JNF attacked the almost insurmountable the water shortage issue, building 167 reservoirs and increasing the water supply by 8 percent. People thought Israel’s land was not redeemable until JNF taught them how to farm the land.

Yehiel Leket at Herzliya Conference “The KKL-JNF has been operating in the Negev for decades,” said Leket. “If all of us work together, we can achieve a breakthrough in developing the Negev as a place where people will want to live and work and that children will want to come home to. But as we move forward, we must be sensitive to the environment and enforce KKL-JNF’s sustainable development policy.”

The accomplishments, Lauder said are because “We were able to focus on a dream and turn it into a reality. It is a dream, it was David Ben Gurion’s dream, it’s been a dream of many, many people, and I think the time is now.”

“We need to build new communities and develop young leadership that can implement this vision. The job of everyone here, of everyone participating in this project, is to push the government, to help it, to make certain that this project is realized. We feel that this is the time there is a window of opportunity and it can be done,” said Blumenblat.

Tour of negev While there has been talk of developing the Negev Desert for many years, the plan put forth by JNF for the first time encompasses a variety of partners from both the public and private sector. Prior to the conference, 120 participants took a JNF sponsored tour of the Negev led by JNF-KKL Director General Itzhak Elyasheve, visiting the new community of Givot Bar, an urban park in Ofakim, water and research facilities, a reservoir, and agricultural areas of the desert. The tour focused on what projects need to be built to accommodate 250,000 new residents in commuter communities that hub around Beer Sheva, Eilat and Mitzpeh Ramon in the next five years.

Tree planting at Herzliya Conference “We must act now, so that the Jewish people and Israel do not lose a great opportunity. We know we can not do it ourselves and that we need to work together with the government, the Lands Authority, KKL-JNF, and various Negev-based organizations,” said Lauder. “It must be a collective effort.”

Ben Gurion University President Braverman said “If Zionism is a motivating force, then it needs to travel south to the Negev, so that Israel does not turn into a Palestinian State. If we follow this model, I believe there will be a breakthrough.”

“There are already plans for the transfer of army and air force bases to the Negev, which will create tens of thousands of jobs and opportunities for the region. Beer Sheva is becoming a major hub, attracting people to the south. I believe that if private enterprise and government work together, five to ten years’ work can be done in two to three years.”

“Southern towns will become an integral part of the economic, commercial, and social structure of the more developed center. Both areas will benefit, since improved transportation will supply new manpower to manufacturers in central Israel, while helping alleviate unemployment in the south,” said Braverman. 

“It is our belief that by doing this, we will encourage people to move from the Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas, which are overcrowded, to the Negev. For that matter, there are thousands of people who would consider moving to the Negev from the Diaspora. We believe that if we are able to supply them with an opportunity for a home, job possibilities, and education for their children, there will be serious immigration to the Negev,” said Lauder.

Photos available as High resolution Jpgs.

Captions (top to bottom): JNF President Ronald S. Lauder and JNK-KKL World Chairman Yehiel Leket present the Blueprint Negev plan at the Herzliya Conference; JNF-KKL World Chairman Yehiel Leket speaks to over 1500 participants at Israel's 2004 Herzliya Conference; More than 120 of Israel's top leaders tour the Negev Desert prior to the conference; Russell F. Robinson, JNF's Cheif Executive Officer, plants a tree in the Negev Desert.


Jewish National Fund is a non-profit organization founded in 1901 to serve as caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners—Jewish people everywhere.  During the first half of the 20th century, JNF set out to achieve its goal by purchasing the land that would become the State of Israel.  Following the successful establishment of the state in 1948, the organization has evolved to meet Israel's most pressing needs, including the current security crisis, ongoing water shortage and other environmental challenges.  Over the past century, the organization has planted over 240 million trees, built over 150 reservoirs and dams, developed over 250,000 acres of land, created more than 450 parks and educated students around the world about Israel and the environment.  For more information on JNF or to plant trees in Israel, call 1-800-542-TREE (8733) or visit  To contact your local office, please call 888-JNF-0099 or visit