£3bn Arab plan could change Israel
THE NIS 15 billion (£2.64 bn), five-year plan recently authorised by the Israeli government for the Arab sector could go a long way towards closing historical gaps between Jewish and Arab communities in Israel. However, bureaucratic and political obstacles stand in the way of its effective implementation.
The underfunding of Arab communities is the result of decades of neglect and discrimination, in the allocation of resources, in planning and in infrastructure investment. This state of affairs has continued under all the governments of Israel, going back to the state’s foundation.
Until now, the only government to try to seriously address this issue was the Rabin government from 1992-95, but the systemic gaps remain.
The new plan, hatched by Equalities Minister Gila Gamliel and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, is designed to address these issues, working both with government ministries and local authorities on a wide range of funding and planning issues. However, civil society and Arab organisations claim that while the funding is welcome, it has not been developed through sufficient dialogue with the intended recipients. One major problem that has yet to be addressed satisfactorily is whether the funds will also be allocated to Arab communities living in “mixed cities”, who make up as much as 20 per cent of the Israeli-Arab population.
Another issue is the government’s insistence that Arab councils agree to planning new neighbourhoods of “high-density” housing, rather than the more traditional private detached houses preferred by Israeli Arabs.
A further bone of contention is the government’s intention to use the plan to boost national service schemes. Currently a small minority of Israeli Arabs participate in the programmes, which are also opposed by Arab politicians. The main political barriers to the plan, which was passed unanimously despite heated arguments between Ms Gamliel and a number of her Likud colleagues, are the as yet unspecified preconditions for the funding, which are supposed to ensure that the government will not be “sent to the Wild West” as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in one cabinet discussion.
Mr Netanyahu has said that he expects local councils receiving the funding to co-operate with more intensive policing, including collecting illegal weapons and cracking down on building without permits.
The Arab politicians’ response to this is that they have a clear interest in better policing and in streamlining planning procedures in their towns and villages, but that this should not be a precondition to ending funding inequality. The calls for more policing in the Arab sector have intensified since the attack in Tel Aviv two weeks ago in which an Israeli-Arab from Arara murdered two men at a bar and a taxi-driver while fleeing. Hardliner ministers Yariv Levin and Zeev Elkin have since been appointed by Mr Netanyahu to formulate criteria for the allocation of the funds.
Arab areas have undergone years of neglect
Palestinians pray in front of the Al-Aqsa mosque