"This is a historic decision that can change the demographic map of the State of Israel," said Netanyahu.
The Israel Land Authority, which manages the country's public lands, on Wednesday approved "unprecedented" discounts on residential land in the Negev and Galilee, the first step in a government plan to settle the sparsely populated regions.
The decision raised the maximum discount on purchasing land from 450,000 shekels ($118,000) to 850,000 shekels ($222,000) for first-time homebuyers. Active IDF reservists are entitled to an additional 10% reduction.
Furthermore, a regulation restricting discounts in communities of higher socioeconomic status will be canceled.
The ILA said the moves would "allow a young population to settle in significant numbers in urban and rural communities in the Negev and the Galilee."
A control mechanism will be established to ensure that the newly built homes will not be used for investment purposes.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the approval of the program "fantastic news ahead of Rosh Hashanah."
"This is a historic decision that can change the demographic map of the State of Israel. We set for ourselves the goal of returning young people to the Galilee and the Negev, and today, we took another significant step in realizing this vision. Our wonderful young people will now be able to settle in the length and breadth of the country at sane prices," he said.
In some cases, the discount will now amount to 90%, reducing the price of the land to a mere 300,000 shekels ($78,000), Israel Hayom reported on Thursday. The new policy will be valid for four years and includes growth targets for the two regions, which have been designated as national priority areas.
According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, Jews comprised 18.1% of the population in the heart of the Galilee in 2005, but only 14.6% in 2020. In actual numbers, the Jewish population increased slightly, from 97,526 in 2005 to 98,716 in 2020, but the Arab population jumped 26.5%, from 441,212 in 2005 to 576,556 in 2020.
The key problem is the skyrocketing cost of land, Yisrael Neeman, the chairman of the local council in the Jewish community of Eshhar in the Lower Galilee, told JNS last year. The reason land prices are so high is that government land assessors review comparable home sales when setting prices, and home prices have skyrocketed, he said.
"A particular piece of land can cost 20,000 shekels [$5,900] for an Arab buyer, while 500 meters [1,600 feet] away a similar plot of land sold to a Jewish buyer can reach 1 million shekels [$295,000]," Bentzi Lieberman, chairman of the Shiloh Forum, a research and policy institute that encourages Jewish settlement, added at the time.
The coalition agreement between Netanyahu's ruling Likud Party and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir's Otzma Yehudit Party called for strengthening the Jewish presence in the Negev and Galilee.