Israeli government reaches historic budget deal for Arab sector after tough negotiations

Five-year plan is reportedly estimated at NIS 10-15 b.; Liberman slams Netanyahu’s government for boosting Arab share of budget; Joint List MK says deal in right direction, but still comes up short.

PM Netanyahu with Arab Israeli leaders (photo credit: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE)
PM Netanyahu with Arab Israeli leaders
The government reached a historic agreement Wednesday to drastically increase budget funds for a five-year development plan in the Arab sector.
“This is a significant addition designed to assist the minorities and to reduce gaps,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, adding that the deal “strengthens law enforcement among minority populations, with an emphasis on illegal building.”
The government approved the proposal of Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel to promote a comprehensive program of economic and structural development.
The size of the five-year plan is reportedly estimated at NIS 10 billion to NIS 15b., which would increase funding for housing, education, employment of Arab women, infrastructure, welfare services and public transport.
One of the sticking points to the deal is that the Prime Minister’s Office did not release specific numbers at this time, but would later as the deal is implemented.
A Joint List source told The Jerusalem Post that Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev and Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin tried to put a strict national-service stipulation into the deal, but in the end it was papered over. A committee will be formed to adjudicate the issue.
Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi told the Post the deal is a step in the right direction, but comes up short compared to the Arab plan.
“Tying the right to incentives to national service is wrong and we cannot accept it,” he said.
Arab leaders are skeptical because there had been a previous five-year plan in 2000 that was not implemented, the deputy Knesset speaker said.
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh reacted to the agreement by saying the deal “is the result of a long public battle over many years.”
The program was formed in close cooperation between the Joint List and the National Committee of Arab Heads of Municipal Authorities.
“The fact that the program includes a significant incremental budget, along with some substantial change in allocation mechanisms of various ministries, could be a first step to reduce economic and social disparities of the country’s Arab population,” said Odeh.
“We must continue the struggle and follow the implementation of the program,” he added. “We have no illusions about the racist policies of the current government.”
Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash), told the Post following the cabinet decision that the main problem with the agreement is that it does not specify the exact budget for each of its provisions.
“The plan falls way short of our over NIS 30b. plan, and will not bring about substantial change in the real life conditions of the Arab citizens,” he said.
“I am afraid that the government is paying lip service for the international community, such as the OECD. We will continue our popular, legal and parliamentary struggle for achieving true equality for our community.”
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, meanwhile, released a statement slamming Netanyahu’s government for boosting the Arab share of the budget.
“The next time, the Arabs will flock to the polls funded by Netanyahu,” he said, referring to the prime minister’s comments in the last election warning that Arabs were going to the polls en masse in order to get Likud supporters out to vote.
Lieberman said that “while Islamic State is threatening to destroy Israel, the Israeli government finds it necessary to strengthen the Joint Arab List – just as Islamic State’s ultimate aim is the destruction of Israel.”
Instead of strengthening the moderate elements of Arab society, the government is passing NIS 15b. to the Arabs, said Liberman.
A Likud source responded by saying he should first learn the details of the deal before he talks nonsense.
“This is the first time that the transfer of funds to the Arab sector is conditional on the cessation of illegal building,” the source said.
Jafar Farah, director of the NGO Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, told the Post he is concerned that the Prime Minister’s Office did not release any specific numbers for the deal.
“They said that only after approval of the government decision will numbers be issued from the Finance Ministry,” he said, adding that “according to our data, the plan would be around NIS 9.5b. to 10b. over five years. in the best case.”
Farah, whose NGO had a part in drafting the Arab plan, calls for NIS 6.4b. a year for five years.
“The Mossawa Center is very skeptical about this decision and has a feeling that it is more for public relations,” asserted Farah, stating that the 2016 budget is already allocated, meaning the money will have to be found for it.
Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund, an NGO dedicated to inclusion and equality between Arab and Jewish citizens, said his organization welcomes the agreement, but the government needs to realize that economics is not enough by itself to implement full integration of Arabs into society.
“It has to be supplemented by education for coexistence, anti-racism policies and representation of the Arab citizens in all realms of public life in Israel,” he said. “The government cannot exercise a positive approach to economic integration and at the same time a negative approach to the Arab minority in every other aspect.”
Sikkuy – the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality – lauded the government’s decision approving the plan submitted by the Finance Ministry and the Authority for Economic Development of the Arab Sector.
“This is an important and especially welcome day for anyone who seeks to advance equality between Arab and Jewish citizens,” Sikkuy said.
“This important plan differs significantly from previous plans in that it corrects the state’s current allocation mechanisms in various funding areas. It revises some of the existing discriminatory funding formulas into ones based on equality.”
However, the NGO said the plan’s weakness is that it was developed with insufficient consultation with Arab society’s leadership, and doesn’t explicitly commit to correcting the discrimination in the education budget and does not include enough direct resource allocations to the Arab local authorities.
Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara said “the Likud government continues to bring salvation to the Arab sector according to the teachings of Ze’ev Jabotinsky.”