Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that a national effort is required to close the social gaps between the Jewish and Arab communities in Israel, and that success will only come alongside more robust law enforcement in Arab towns.
Speaking ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu also announced the approval of NIS 2 billion ($510 million) plan to develop the Druze and Circassian communities.
“Any sensible person knows that there are large gaps between the Arab and Jewish population, resource gaps and disparities in law enforcement, gaps and discrepancies in rights and obligations,” Netanyahu said. “These gaps formed over decades, and it is time to make a major national effort to reduce them.”
“The unprecedented program that the government approved ten days ago will do even more in that direction,” he added, referring to a NIS 15 billion ($4 billion) five-year development plan for Arab communities.
“At the same time, we will also implement a comprehensive law enforcement plan for the Arab community,” Netanyahu continued. “I want to make it clear that nothing we do in various areas of infrastructure, tourism, education, in trade and economy — these things can’t progress if we don’t deal with the question of enforcing Israeli law in the Arab community.
“These two programs are intertwined, and they will help and benefit the citizens of Israel, primarily Arab citizens,” he said.
Likewise, Netanyahu said, the upcoming scheme for Druze and Circassian communities “will help to close the gaps, advancing a community that serves in the IDF and sees itself as a part of Israel.”
Circassians are members of a displaced ethnic group originating in the Caucasus and now spread across the Middle East, of whom 4,000 live in Israel.
“I believe anyone who wants real integration of all the citizens of Israel in Israeli society will be a partner to this national effort that the government will lead in the coming years,” Netanyahu said.
Last week the prime minister rejected reports he was preparing to impose conditions on Israel’s Arab community for the recently passed multi-billion-shekel development plan, though one minister said he had been asked to draw up the demands.
Channel 2 reported Monday night that Netanyahu was considering withholding funds earmarked for Israeli Arab communities unless they accept new measures for “increased law enforcement,” in the wake of a January 1 terror shooting spree by an Israeli Arab man in Tel Aviv that killed three people and injured six others.
According to the report, the prime minister instructed ministers Ze’ev Elkin and Yariv Levin to prepare such a plan in response to the shooting. The attack highlighted the problem of unregistered firearms in Arab communities, bringing calls — including from Arab Israeli political leaders — for a police crackdown on the issue. The Prime Minister’s Office denied the report at the time, saying there were no plans to limit or condition the aid package for the Arab community.
Earlier this month the government approved a plan to build a new Druze town in the North.
Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh dismissed Netanyahu’s promise of new construction for Arab communities as empty rhetoric and derided the calls for better law enforcement as being years overdue.
“The prime minister continues to incite and to use empty slogans to distract the public from a discussion of his failure to lead the country,” Odeh said in a statement. “The prime minister is talking about widespread construction as though there is any meaning to the idea when there are communities where right now the infrastructure is collapsing. We would be happy and we’d encourage the construction of new neighborhoods with adequate infrastructure and with an education system and trade that would make enable dense construction.”
Raoul Wootlife contributed to this report.