Knesset Finance Committee Approves Millions in Funds for Arab Community
On Tuesday, the Knesset Finance Committee gave the green light for the transfer of NIS 740 million, which is around $220 million, in funding for the Arab community. Two weeks ago, the coalition had come to an agreement with its Islamist Ra’am party for taking the process forward. This was after Ra’am had returned to the coalition after three weeks during which time they had frozen their cooperation with the government. The promise of these funds had been made last month before Ra’am had temporarily boycotted the coalition due to the growing clashes and tensions occurring at Temple Mount.
However, the authorization of the funds had been slowed down because of bureaucracy and also because government ministries had some different priorities. The right-wing had been very reluctant to take this authorization forward because they were fearful that criminal elements would be able to get their hands on the money. However,Ayelet Shaked, the Interior Minister, said that the government had distributed the funds as a routine matter for the community from their five-year plan. Yair Lapid, the Foreign Minister, had also issued directives for eliminating any bureaucratic barriers that were standing in the way of the funds after the Ra’am party returned to the coaltion.
It was back in April that Ra’am had taken the decision to freeze their membership in the coalition because of increasing pressure due to the violence and tensions between the Palestinians and the police at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the month of Ramadan. On Tuesday, the approval of the funds was announced by Ra’am. The Housing Ministry will be transferring NIS 400 million that will be used for improving construction, infrastructure and planning in the Arab community. The Interior Ministry will transfer NIS 200 million to the regional Arab authorities.
The Welfare and Social Services Ministry will transfer NIS 90 million that will be used for developing programs to combat violence and poverty in Arab communities. The Social Equality Ministry and Science Ministry will also contribute NIS 50 million to support the youth and develop research and science programs. The Ra’am party also disclosed that an additional NIS 75 million had been approved by the committee on Monday for speeding up the construction and planning process in Arab communities. The government was heavily criticized by Bezalel Smotrich from the opposition, who hails from the Religious Zionism party. He said that the Homeland Security Committee of the Knesset had recommended that the funds not be given to terror groups and criminals.
The inclusion of the Islamist Ra’am party in the coalition has been repeatedly assailed by the opposition, as it claims that Israel’s security is undermine by the inclusion of the Arab party. Smotrich said that the consequences of this move by the government would be severe because it is a crime. According to a representative of the Finance Ministry, the recommendations of the security committee were applicable to development budgets that are given through government tenders. Shaked stated that back in 2015, the government of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also distributed the funds to authorities that were responsible for Arab communities.