Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich appeared to concede defeat on Monday morning when he announced that some 200 million shekels in frozen funds intended for the Arab sector would be released.
As part of the agreement reached, the funds will be transferred from the Finance Ministry to the Interior Ministry, which will then allocate and move the funds over to Arab local councils across Israel subject to "activation, supervision and control mechanisms" intended to ensure the money is "to the benefit of the Arab citizens of Israel and not to the criminal organizations."
These mechanisms will be discussed and implemented following government approval in the next two weeks, a statement from Smotrich said.
It was also announced that the Shin Bet and the Israel Police will work to oversee the enforcement, and the Finance Ministry will transfer an undetermined sum of money toward eradicating crime in Arab society. The announcement also said "a package of laws will be promoted that will grant powers for criminal and economic enforcement against the criminal organizations in Arab society.”
The decision to unfreeze the funds came after a five-hour meeting with Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, Interior Minister Moshe Arbel, heads of Arab local councils, and Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai.
Why has Smotrich refused to release the funds?
Smotrich refused to release the funds, arguing that "Arab authorities receive the grant designed to help weaker authorities just like any other authority in Israel and based on equal criteria.
"There is and has never been any justification in the world to favor the Arab authorities even more and give only them a special grant that the weak authorities in the Jewish sector do not receive."
Ministers clashed at Sunday's cabinet meeting over the frozen funds, with the discussion devolving into a shouting match.
Former interior minister Ayelet Shaked, who on Friday said Smotrich "would fold and release the funds," attacked the finance minister again on Monday morning for "folding" under the pressure.
התקפל כמו טאטאלע https://t.co/G1bDfLe7Or— איילת שקד Ayelet Shaked (@Ayelet__Shaked) August 28, 2023
Smotrich avoids Arab general strike
Smotrich’s original move promoted protests last week by the heads of the Arab authorities, and a general strike that could have led to the delay of the beginning of the school year.
Without the immediate transfer of funds, it was warned that despite a strike there would not be money to open the schools.
Modi’in Mayor Haim Bibas, who has been active in pushing the government to release the funds and has joined the protests with Arab heads, said on Monday that "The government did well when it decided to release the frozen funds. Money that is intended for education, welfare, the community, and the provision of municipal services.
“There are control mechanisms formulated by the government ministries and the security agencies and in this way, or in any other way that the government chooses, care should be taken to complete the budgets intended for building infrastructures, educational institutions, sports and culture, employment areas and transportation infrastructures.”