Government in talks to invest billions in Arab sector

Plan to shut funding gaps expected to go through despite involvement of some Arab citizens in recent terrorist attacks.

October 29, 2015 06:39
2 minute read.

DEMONSTRATORS GATHER in Sakhnin, October 13, 2015. (photo credit: JOINT ARAB LIST)

The government plans to infuse billions of shekels in funding to Arab municipalities over the next five years, but it may take some weeks to negotiate terms of the deal, an Arab leader negotiating the budget increase told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

The deal has long been in the works, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deciding two months ago to transfer a budget supplement of NIS 900 million to Arab municipalities, but talks have intensified since the violence in past weeks and was not expected to be hindered by the involvement of Israeli Arab in recent terrorist attacks.

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“Nothing is finalized yet, but I hope it will be,” Sakhnin Mayor Mazen Ganaim, head of the National Committee of Arab Heads of Municipal Authorities, told the Post, after Channel 10 television said an agreement may be reached in the coming weeks.

“As long as nothing is signed, there is nothing to say,” Ganaim said of the report. He would only confirm that a few meetings had been held on the issue between the Arab leadership and the government.

President Reuven Rivlin has met several times about the proposed funding hike with Joint List head Ayman Odeh, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Kulanu faction chairman MK Roy Folkman and Ganaim.

They have agreed in principle to increase funding for housing, education, boosting the employment of Arab women, infrastructure, welfare services and public transport.

Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, an NGO dedicated to improving coexistence between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens, welcomed the talks, in remarks to the Post, “because it shows that the government recognizes the need to close social-economic gaps between Jews and Arabs.”

This includes the need to combat racism and increase Arab integration in the civil service and other sectors, Beeri-Sulitzeanu said.

Asked if the deal could be seen as a way to quiet the situation, Amnon responded that “social-economic integration and equality cannot be a substitute for a meaningful dialogue between the government and the Arab minority in Israel.”

Channel 10 said both sides had denied the additional funding would amount to a “money for peace” deal.

Netanyahu had decided two months ago to transfer a budget supplement of NIS 900m. to Arab municipalities, but the plan had not been finalized.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman protested the discussions, accusing the government of “strengthening the supporters of terrorism in the Knesset.” He accused Kahlon of trying to “buy quiet” by transferring billions to the Arab sector via a deal negotiated by the Joint List.

“They are yet again strengthening and legitimizing the most extreme Israeli Arabs,” Liberman wrote on Facebook. “Instead of developing and strengthening the moderate Arabs who call for coexistence and loyalty to the state, the government that pretends to be nationalist prefers to work with those who consistently incite against the state and cooperate with terrorists.”

In contrast, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett said it was important to strengthen the Arab sector in order to unite all the people of Israel under Israeli sovereignty. He called for mass investment in education, transportation and infrastructure in the Arab sector.

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