The government on Wednesday unanimously approved a NIS 15 billion ($3.84 billion) five-year plan to develop Israeli Arab and other minority communities in an effort to bring them up to par with the general population.
The plan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel’s aims to “advance a systematic and structural economic development plan for the minority sector,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
“This is a significant addition designed to assist minority populations and reduce [societal] gaps,” Netanyahu said. “The plan will lead to the end of single-family home construction and a transition to high-rise construction, as exists throughout the country. At the same time, the plan will strengthen law enforcement in the minority sector with emphasis on illegal construction.”
The proposal will focus on Israel’s communities of Muslims, Druze, Christians and Circassians — members of a displaced ethnic group originating in the Caucasus, now spread across the Middle East, of which there are about 4,000 living in Israel.
Representatives of the minority communities worked with officials from the PMO and the two ministries to hammer out the details of the program.
Muslims, Druze and Christian Arabs make up slightly less than two million people, just under a quarter of the Israeli population.
Before the approval was agreed, some Likud ministers tried to insist that mixed Jewish-Arab communities should also benefit from the funding, leading to a heated row. The suggestion was ultimately not included in the final plan.
A widespread investment in education in the Arab sector as well as subsidies for public transport in minority communities are other key elements of the project.
President Reuven Rivlin, a strong advocate for minority rights, telephoned Netanyahu and Kahlon on Wednesday evening to congratulate them on passing the plan.
“I congratulate you and the government upon this brave and significant decision,” the president told Netanyahu. “This is an important, and vital step on the road to closing the gaps which have existed for years. Clearly there is a long road ahead, but the government’s decision, under your leadership, represents a turning point, and an unprecedented confidence-building measure.”
Gamliel asserted that the budget would finally give the Arab community its fair share of government funding.
“This is an important and historic step on the way to reducing gaps and advancing social equality in Israel,” Gamliel said. “This is dramatic news; for the first time, the government of Israel is changing the allocation mechanisms in government ministries so that Israel’s Arab citizens will receive their relative share in the state budget.”
Leader of the Joint (Arab) List party MK Ayman Odeh welcomed the development, but warned that there still much that needed to be done for the Arab community.
“The plan that was approved today is the result of a public campaign for many years [and] is still far from complete,” he said.
“We need to follow implementation of the plan. Even though we have a long history of disappointments in the past, and we have no illusions about the government’s racist policies, we hope we shall see the full implementation of the program.”
The PMO said that within 30 days, a team under the auspices of the deputy attorney-general would submit recommendations to the cabinet for “upgrading planning and construction ordinances.”