Israel downplays delay in $645M Arab budget allocation
The development plan approved in December 2015 plan would increase funding for housing, education, employment of Arab women, infrastructure, welfare services and public transport in Arab localities. (AFP/File)
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Israel's Ministry of Finance rejected the uproar regarding what it said is a short delay in distributing NIS 2.5 billion to Arab communities as part of a multi-billion shekel five-year deal.
The plan, involving an estimated NIS 10-15 billion with and an initial distribution of 2.5 b., is likely to be released in the coming weeks, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s spokesman told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
Kahlon responded on Monday in the Knesset to Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen who asked him about the delay, explaining that it is related to conditions in the plan dealing with creating a mechanism to enforce planning and construction laws in Arab localities. Kahlon also said the Prime Minister’s Office was behind the delay and hoped the issue would be resolved soon.
A source in the Finance Ministry told the Post that the delay appears to be “a political issue” and that Netanyahu is having a problem moving the plan forward because of the entrance of Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman into the government as defense minister.
In December 2015, the government approved the proposal by Netanyahu, Kahlon and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel to promote a comprehensive program of economic and structural development.
Jabareen responded to the Finance Ministry, telling the Post on Tuesday: “Our experience shows that promises have never been met. Let’s just hope that this time they are serious.
“These promised budgets are the rights of our community after decades of discrimination, not a privilege,” he added.
Ghaida Rinawie-Zoabi, director of the NGO Injaz, told the Post that unfortunately it appears that the government may have to lower the size of the program to push it through.
Injaz – Center for Professional Arab Local Governance – is helping 35 Arab municipalities out of a total of 75 so far, and the number is growing.
The NGO created a task force in January to help Arab municipalities implement the new plan.
“We encountered statements from government officials who said that in order to put this plan into practice, they would have to ‘hide’ it under the table,” she asserted.
Rinawie-Zoabi said that the extent of the implementation of the deal could be judged in a year or so when it would be possible to compare the allocations with past numbers.
Senior government officials understand that building a strong Arab middle class and increasing employment and education in the community benefits the state economy, she said in an interview last week.
Ayal Kantz, a policy analyst working with Injaz, said he does not think the plan is going away, but since the majority of the budgeted funds are not going to specific projects, only time will tell if the budgets increase over time.
Even the estimated NIS 10-15 b. is not enough to close the gaps, argued Kantz.
The delay is “political” and politicians need to understand that improving the Arab sector economy improves the overall state economy as well.
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