A WOMAN walks past campaign posters for the Arab-led Hadash party in the Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday met with Arab leaders to discuss ways of bridging gaps in areas such as employment, education, transportation, and housing.
Sakhnin Mayor Mazen Ganaim, who is chairman of the committee of Arab municipal authorities, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the meeting with the prime minister "was positive without a doubt." He said he would create a ministerial committee that would meet each month to deal with problems in the Arab sector.
Asked about what funds were being demanded to develop the Arab sector, Ganaim said NIS 32 billion over five years. This money will help the Arab sector deal with unemployment, crime, and poverty, he said.
Kafr Kasim Mayor Adel Badir, who was also present at the meeting, said "We stand by our demands." There will be negotiations and the next step could call for "a legitimate struggle to make our voice heard," he said.
Jafar Farah, the director of Haifa's Mossawa Center - The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel - which was involved in drawing up the Arab budget proposal, told the Post on Sunday that if their demands are not met, protests will be held to pressure the government. Farah added that, if an adequate amount is not offered, protests will begin on September 1.
"The State of Israel has many economic achievements and all citizens need to be part of it. My governments have invested major sums in developing your communities. I am committed to equal opportunity for all," Netanyahu told the meeting.
Speaking later at the Knesset, Netanyahu said it is important to integrate Arabs into Israel's labor markets.
Israel's Arab citizens face a variety of unique problems. Many are clustered in towns and villages that are far from work centers, and have less access to good public transportation. Arab education lags behind, and language and cultural barriers pose an additional hurdle.
Integrating Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews into Israel's economy are two of the most pressing economic challenges facing Israel. The two groups, which made up a combined 30% of Israel's population in 2013, are expected to represent half of all Israelis by 2059, according to the Bank of Israel.
Haredi men and Arab women, in particular, participate in the labor force at much lower rates than secular Jewish Israelis. If the groups do not become economically productive members of the work force, the economy's potential could significantly stagnate.