Joint List MK Jamal Zahalka.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Although he had initially been invited by President Reuven Rivlin together with Arab council leaders and Knesset members, MK Jamal Zahalka was asked earlier in the week not to attend a meeting at the President’s Residence on Wednesday so as not to offend the sensitivities of families whose loved ones had been murdered by terrorists.
The invitation was sent before Zahalka and two other MKs from the Joint List met with families of terrorists and were castigated by both the Knesset and the media.
Zahalka had hoped to attend a historic meeting at the President’s Residence to officially mark the beginning of significantly reducing the gap between Arab and Jewish communities, but heeded Rivlin’s request to stay away.
More than 160 people gathered at the Presidents Residence, sitting at round tables of 12 and moving around from table to table so that every council head would meet the relevant government officials.
Both Rivlin and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon condemned the attack on a soldier by a Palestinian terrorist on Wednesday. Rivlin said there was no forgiveness, no excuse and no tolerance for terrorism, and that the Arab leadership must condemn it and act as a bridge for peace.
Kahlon said he is hopeful that the government and the defense establishment would put an end to the terrorist attacks.
Indirectly relating to Zahalka and others, Rivlin, in thanking all those who had taken part in the discussions that led to the enormous breakthrough vis-avis the Arab sector, said that unfortunately there are individual MKs who maliciously sabotage efforts to establish mutual trust.
This was the first time in Israel’s history, he said, that a significant plan that would improve relations between Arabs and Jews through discussion and dialogue had been mutually approved.
“Today there are people within the Arab leadership with whom we can work,” said Kahlon. “They know what they want and they want to progress. They are exceptional people.”
Kahlon conceded that there had been many disputes and shouting matches, but what was clear all along was that council heads care about their communities and want to improve their quality of life in every way possible.
“We want this project to be clean, without tricks,” he said.
Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel paid tribute to the Finance Ministry’s budgets director, Amir Levi, who had conceived the project several years earlier, and said she was glad that he finally found partners.
The cooperation between all the parties concerned has resulted in a comprehensive and important project from which all Arabs will benefit, said Gamliel, pledging that no needless obstacle would be put in the path of implementation.
She also paid tribute to Rivlin who she said was “the envoy who had united the elements.”
Mazan Ganaim, the chairman of the Arab Local Councils Forum, said that no one is more sensitive to the distress of the Arab sector than Rivlin, Kahlon, Gamliel and Levi.
He is very pleased one of the priorities of the program will be the construction of 40,000 housing units. However, he warned against tearing down 50,000 existing units and putting up new ones in their stead.
He is also happy more Arab women are better educated and interested in finding employment, but said not enough jobs are available.
Eli Groner, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, assured everyone present the prime minister believes in the full integration of Arabs.
This is a dramatic change in government attitude, said Groner, who declared that the government is determined to have this project succeed.